Amid an overwhelming and fragmented amount of broadband programs, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) is calling for a unified national broadband strategy.
In a new report, GAO explained there are over 100 Federal broadband programs – administered by 15 agencies – that aim to expand broadband access. Despite these numerous programs and a Federal investment of $44 billion from 2015 through 2020, GAO said millions of Americans still lack reliable broadband.
“The U.S. broadband efforts are not guided by a national strategy with clear roles, goals, objectives, and performance measures,” the report says. “A strategy to help better align programs could also include legislative proposals for Congress. Without such a strategy, Federal broadband efforts will not be fully coordinated, and thereby continue to risk overlap and duplication of effort.”
According to GAO, agency officials said “programmatic differences” limit their ability to align broadband programs. For example, many programs have differing requirements for eligible areas, populations, or broadband speed.
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) led an interagency group that reviewed differing program definitions in 2018. However, GAO said the agency “did not identify which statutory provisions limit alignment nor recommend any changes.”
GAO recommended that NTIA “identify key statutory limitations to program alignment and develop legislative proposals as appropriate.” Additionally, GAO recommended the Executive Office of the President develop and implement a national broadband strategy.
“Improved alignment is needed to help address fragmentation and overlap,” the report says. “Without legislative proposals for Congress to consider, agencies may continue to face limitations in aligning programs to close the digital divide.”
NTIA agreed with GAO’s recommendations, stressing that it is “imperative” agencies are well-coordinated on broadband efforts.