As Senate Chops, Will Broadband be a Loser?
The stimulus bill is hung up in the Senate, and it appears the one way to pass a bill is to cut its size. Obama talked with a group of "centrist" senators Wednesday about cutting the size of the bill by $50 billion. Sen. Ben Nelson, a Nebraska Democrat, is talking about $90 billion in cuts. Some more moderate Republican senators propose cutting the bill by a third, to $600 billion.
One of the criteria for cutting projects is how quickly they will create jobs. On that score, rural broadband spending is now getting some bad ink. The Congressional Budget Office reports that most technology money in the bill would be spent quickly, "with one primary exception. CBO anticipates that funds provided to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to administer the broadband grant program would take longer to spend—seven years—because the new appropriations would far exceed the agency's 2009 funding of $17 million, and the legislation would require, in most circumstances, that grant recipients provide 20 percent of the project's cost from nonfederal sources."
Sounds bad, and the quote has been used in stories as proof that the broadband provision is not a job creator. But nearly half the broadband money (at least in the House bill) was to be distributed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, not NTIA. We need to hear from USDA about the agency's readiness to put people to work.