On February 7, 2013, KUSA-Channel 9 News in Denver, Colorado investigated issues related to the administration of a Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) grant within the state of Colorado, which is reportedly using the funding to build new fiber optic lines alongside those already in existence in direct competition with local telecommunication providers. In 2009, Congress passed the Recovery Act on the premise that it would create new jobs and help the economy grow. Included in the Act was the BTOP grant program created to provide broadband infrastructure grants to unserved and underserved communities across the country.
According to the report, the grant recipient, Eagle-Net, received a BTOP award of $100.6 million to bring high speed broadband services to all the schools, libraries and anchor institutions in underserved areas of Colorado.
The Eagle-Net project summary on the government’s Recovery Act spending website states in part,
The project addresses the lack of affordable high-capacity broadband access at many rural and underserved school districts and educational institutions, many of which currently rely on outdated copper-based telecommunications facilities.
However, the Channel 9 report highlighted Eagle-Net’s use of this grant funding to build fiber optic lines in locations already served by other fiber optic communication providers, including a school of 11 students in Agate, Colorado, which now has three different fiber optic lines running to the school, including the Eagle-Net service. Based on this report, Agate, Colorado’s school may be rural, but it is certainly not underserved.
On February 11, 2013, The New York Times reported that the earliest fiber optic connections turned on by Eagle-Net was in a Denver, Colorado suburb, which already had fiber optic service running at 300 megabits per second. As early as September 2012, several member of the Colorado Congressional delegation joined together to express their concern about Eagle-Net being involved in overbuild issues relating to their work in extending fiber optic lines to communities around the state.
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) which oversees the BTOP program has suspended Eagle-Net’s construction to resolve environmental issues that have been raised. Perhaps NTIA should also take this opportunity to review Eagle-Net’s operations to ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent wisely, and issues with fiber optic overbuild are resolved before another line is put in the ground.
CAGW has been concerned about the potential to misuse money from the 2009 Recovery Act programs, and had previously written about the lack of oversight in the BTOP program. These reports continue to raise questions about whether the Recovery Act grants are performing as intended, if there is sufficient oversight of the programs, and whether money is being wasted on duplicating already existing services.