New leadership, possible corrections

mid-January More than 150 members of Congress wrote to the FCCand calls on the agency to carefully examine the companies that are to receive federal broadband grants.

In a letter to then-chairman Ajit Pai, the bipartisan group of lawmakers said the FCC must ensure that companies can deliver what they promise without naming companies.

“Without due care, we fear today that we will not know whether the funds have not been properly spent in the years to come,” said the letter, signed by US Representative Jim Clyburn, South Carolina, Senator Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota and Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Michigan.

A day after this letter was sent, a new administration took office in Washington DC, which also brought new leadership to the FCC.

The agency’s new acting chairwoman, Jessica Rosenworcel, had previously expressed concerns about continuing the auction last fall to distribute rural broadband subsidies. Last February, when Rosenworcel was serving as FCC commissioner, the agency argued that it should wait until it can upgrade its cards in order to get better data on where broadband improvements are most needed.

Otherwise, warned Rosenworcel, the broadband subsidy program would become “more of a publicity stunt than politics.” She noted that poor broadband maps could force some areas to wait 10 years before they could get further help.

Once Rosenworcel became incumbent chair, she began implementing changes, Rosenworcel’s press secretary Paloma Perez said in a prepared statement.

One of them was the establishment of a new broadband data task force, which Perez said “is dedicated to the long overdue improvement of broadband data and mapping the agency.”

The agency also carefully reviews the fall auction winners and will not send money until this review is complete.

Even so, Elliott, the director of the Washington State Broadband Office, remains skeptical that if time is of the essence, things will get better in time. He claims that the FCC’s auction process rewards the cheapest broadband options, not the best. A pattern he fears will repeat itself.

“I’m trying to tie this into a future-proof, scalable infrastructure so we don’t have to have this conversation for another 30 years,” said Elliott. “Unfortunately, when they award the satellite companies, it has a huge impact on them.”