5:30am

Thu March 7, 2013
Business Report

Lawmakers, Telecom Critical Of Rural Colorado Broadband Project

A group called EAGLE-Net Alliance has drawn fire from federal lawmakers with questions on whether it has wasted taxpayer money.

Erin O'Toole talks with NCBR publisher Jeff Nuttall about EAGLE-Net's troubles for Morning Edition

Some say EAGLE-Net is competing with companies that already sell high-speed broadband in rural areas, and that the organization’s $100 million government grant is being wasted on redundant installation of fiber.

Northern Colorado Business Report publisher Jeff Nuttall says a number of Internet service providers are concerned.

"The Colorado Telecommunications Association, which represents 25 carriers, described EAGLE-Net construction as a ‘major issue’ for its members," Nuttall says.

Interview Highlights

On benefits the program is supposed to provide…

"The program is aimed at expanding fiber-optic Internet service to more rural parts of the U.S. Only about 20 percent of American households have access to fiber-optic service, compared with 86 percent in Japan and 66 percent in South Korea."

On what’s happening at the federal level…

"The federal government actually suspended EAGLE-Net’s construction activities in December following concerns that it was building in areas not covered in an environmental assessment it submitted to the government. EAGLE-Net is working to get the government to lift its suspension by the end of the month so it can resume construction of new fiber line.

[Meanwhile] Republican lawmakers on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, including Cory Gardner, questioned officials about EAGLE-Net earlier this month in a hearing in Washington, D.C., on the wider $7.2 billion broadband stimulus program. Congressman Gardner said there are a lot of unanswered questions and that he may request a federal audit of the program."

How is EAGLE-Net responding?

"EAGLE-Net points out that it’s routing broadband internet to governmental facilities like schools, not homes or businesses. The group also has reached out to Internet providers to explain its role and address concerns. The big question ahead is: Will EAGLE-Net be back in business soon, or will the concerns of its competitors mean an end to this program?"

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