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HomePoliticsMarsha Blackburn, Senators Raise Concerns Over New Treasury Broadband Rules

Marsha Blackburn, Senators Raise Concerns Over New Treasury Broadband Rules

U.S. SenateWashington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) joined 9 colleagues in a letter to U.S. Department of Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen to raise concerns regarding the recently-announced final rules for broadband infrastructure funding through the Coronavirus State and Local Recovery Funds.

The Senators are also urging Secretary Yellen to ensure broadband funding focuses on unserved areas throughout the country. 

“As you know, the authority provided by Congress to Treasury to make investments in broadband infrastructure was born out of the challenges posed by the pandemic, when much of daily life was forced online and when consumers lacking internet access faced even greater economic and personal hardship,” wrote the Senators. 

“Because of the importance of addressing these needs, we are profoundly disappointed that Treasury’s final rule lacks the proper guidance and constraints needed to ensure that federal funds are used efficiently and for their intended purpose. As history has demonstrated, absent such constraint, there remains a significant risk that taxpayer money will be wasted in areas where broadband infrastructure already exists and those without access to quality broadband service will not receive the full measure of needed assistance,” the Senators continued.
 
Blackburn and Wicker joined the letter with Senators Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), John Thune (R-S.D.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.V.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), and Susan Collins (R-Maine).

The full letter can be found below.

Dear Secretary Yellen,

We write to express our deep concern with the Treasury’s recently-announced final rule for the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (SLFRF) as it relates to funding made available for broadband infrastructure. As you know, the authority provided by Congress to Treasury to make investments in broadband infrastructure was born out of the challenges posed by the pandemic, when much of daily life was forced online and when consumers lacking internet access faced even greater economic and personal hardship. Because of the importance of addressing these needs, we are profoundly disappointed that Treasury’s final rule lacks the proper guidance and constraints needed to ensure that federal funds are used efficiently and for their intended purpose. As history has demonstrated, absent such constraint, there remains a significant risk that taxpayer money will be wasted in areas where broadband infrastructure already exists and those without access to quality broadband service will not receive the full measure of needed assistance.

The final SLFRF rule increases the risk of overbuilding existing broadband investments. First, the final rule eliminates a key requirement that eligible broadband projects provide service to unserved or underserved households or businesses that lack access to minimum speeds of 25 Mbps download/3 Mbps upload. Instead, recipients can invest in projects designed to serve locations with “an identified need for additional broadband infrastructure investment”—a vague and subjective standard. The rule also permits recipients to invest in projects regardless of whether there is an existing federal or state funding commitment. As a result, the final rule will allow SLFRF recipients to fund projects in areas where broadband service is already or will be available – while continuing to leave truly unserved areas in our states without access to broadband.


The final rule also moves away from a purely quantitative approach to assessing existing broadband service. In addition to federal and state broadband data, funding recipients are permitted to consider user speed tests, interviews, and “any other information they deem relevant” when determining whether to fund a broadband project in a given area. Although input from stakeholders is important to ensuring Americans have access to quality broadband service, this information should be considered against quantitative data about an area’s access to, and quality of, broadband. Additionally, the broad nature of this guidance allows states to choose whatever information they wish to determine the availability of broadband in a given area.

Together, these changes will hinder the identification of unserved areas that need broadband service the most. Instead, the final SLFRF rule has the potential to waste taxpayer dollars funding duplicative service in areas with existing access to broadband, leaving a significant portion of the country unable to realize the benefits of quality broadband service and participate in the digital economy.

We urge you to ensure that SLFRF funds are focused on truly unserved areas to maximize the benefit to those Americans currently without broadband service.

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