WASHINGTON - Less than a month after a 9Wants to Know investigation, a federal hearing revealed frustrations over whether a $100-million stimulus Colorado broadband program is working.
9Wants to Know found evidence the government entity, known as EagleNet, has been installing fiber optic cables in communities that already have them. Critics say the "overbuilding" is wasteful and could put small businesses at risk by taking over school and local government contracts.
Supporters and executives of EagleNet do not characterize the fiber optics lines as overbuilding, but as part of a state-wide network designed to connect more than 220 schools and local governments to desperately needed faster broadband connections.
The Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing titled "Is the Broadband Stimulus Working?" on Wednesday in which members of Congress questioned federal administrators over the claims of government waste and overbuilding.
One of the most vocal critics of EagleNet, Rep. Cory Gardner (R-CO), hammered the head of the National Telecommunications & Information Administration, which granted the money to EagleNet.
"I can't answer that, yes or no today," Larry Strickling said when asked several times by Gardner if there was waste in Colorado. Strickling couldn't answer if EagleNet will be sustainable either.
Strickling defended EagleNet's intentions and claimed the NTIA is doing everything it can to ease concerns.
"I absolutely believe it is a critical project of education in Colorado. We would like to see it succeed to deal with the fact that Colorado has such slow speeds across the state," Strickling said.
Stickling said Colorado is severely lagging behind other states when it comes to broadband speeds.
Rep. Mike Doyle (D-PA) strongly supported the broadband stimulus program as a whole.
"What you don't have the right to do is imply that this program in its totality is a waste of government money," Doyle said after Gardner's line of questioning. "Is this program perfect? Of course it isn't perfect."
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