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Witnesses Set for Broadband Oversight Hearing

Eagle Communications President Gary Shorman will be
among the witnesses at a House Communications Subcommittee hearing Feb. 10 on
the broadband stimulus program, according to the National Cable &
Telecommunications Association.

Shorman will talk about a $101 million award that he
says appears to be for overbuilding a broadband network where Eagle and
AT&T already provide service.

Eagle and NCTA have raised warning flags before about
the project. Shorman will not ask that the project's funding be withdrawn,
but instead confined to areas that are unserved or served only by the
rural phone service that got the award.

Also scheduled to testify are: Todd Zinser, inspector
general of the U.S. Department of Commerce; Phyllis K. Fong, inspector
general, U.S. Department of Agriculture; Mark Goldstein, from the Government
Accountability Office; and Donald J. Welch, Ph.D, president of Merit Network

The subcommittee scheduled the hearing on the billions of
dollars in broadband stimulus money given out by the Departments of Commerce
and Agriculture as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The new Republican leadership has expressed concerns over how that money was
being spent and how the agencies were protecting those investments from waste,
fraud and abuse. Oversight of the program was on an internal priority list
circulated to committee members last month.

According to a hearing notification e-mail, the Republicans
plan to circulate draft legislation in advance of the hearing. The bill would
"increase accountability" for the stimulus spending and "return
unused or reclaimed broadband stimulus funds to the U.S. Treasury."

Together, Commerce's National Telecommunications &
Information Administration's Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP)
and Agriculture's Rural Utilities Service (RUS) approved about $7 billion in
grants and loans for broadband deployment and adoption. The last of the grants
was made in late September.

NTIA's funding for oversight is scheduled to run out soon, a concern for
Republicans who argue the program is vulnerable to waste and fraud.

The hearing comes a week before the Feb. 17 deadline for NTIA to publish
an online, interactive national broadband map.

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.