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Cory Gardner calls for accountability as feds sift through EAGLE-Net’s wreckage

Author: Dan Njegomir - October 31, 2017 - Updated: October 31, 2017

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(iStock image / alphaspirit)

Remember the federally funded, and forever foundering, EAGLE-Net Alliance? That was the epic project, launched in 2010, that was supposed to bridge Colorado’s rural “digital divide” using some $100 million in seed money from the Obama administration’s economic “stimulus package.”

The premise was to bring high-speed internet to remote communities in the high country and on the Eastern Plains — while also of course creating jobs in the wake of the Great Recession. Maybe it was that mixed mission that doomed it from the start — kind of like the dessert topping that’s also a floor wax — and the state-and-federal government venture eventually crashed and burned. It was dogged all along by allegations of financial mismanagement; duplicating the service of private providers, and bypassing communities that actually could have used its help. Ultimately, its federal funding stream was halted. The entity was dissolved last June.

Now, U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner is calling for transparency and accountability in the disposition of the former EAGLE-Net’s assets. That presumably includes the fiber-optic line and other infrastructure from the incomplete network EAGLE-Net was supposed to build.

In a press release today, Gardner’s office touts a letter from the Yuma Republican to U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross “requesting that any transfer of EAGLE-Net Alliance’s former assets be delayed until a National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) Administrator is confirmed.” The letter reads in part:

As NTIA considers how it will proceed with reallocating EAGLE-Net’s assets, the process should remain public and transparent. Since receiving its award of more than $100 million of taxpayer money in 2010, EAGLE-Net was plagued with issues surrounding transparency and appropriate use of those funds. NTIA has an opportunity to end that concerning history and to ensure the public has a full accounting of next steps for those taxpayer-funded assets. I look forward to such an open process once a new NTIA Administrator has taken office.

Gardner, who hails from just the kind of rural farm community that was supposed to benefit from EAGLE-Net’s efforts, was an early critic of the project while still in the U.S. House. For years, he called for greater scrutiny of its operations.

His letter was welcomed by private providers of rural broadband. They long had criticized EAGLE-Net for cherry-picking their markets and for laying cable alongside their own telecommunications lines, in which they had invested millions of dollars. Their trade group, the Colorado Telecommunications Association, issued a statement from Executive Vice President Pete Kirchhof:

“Colorado’s rural broadband providers thank Senator Gardner for his continued work to bring accountability to the now defunct EAGLE-Net Alliance. … Since its inception, our members have voiced their concerns about the lack of transparency and oversight at the quasi-governmental EAGLE-Net. This entity, which was funded with taxpayer stimulus money, spent nearly $100 million to build a broadband network to connect rural communities across our state. In several instances, they installed broadband where it wasn’t needed and ignored areas of Colorado that could have used its support. Now, with EAGLE-Net out of business, we need to find out who controls this taxpayer-funded network and how rural communities may be able to access it to improve their broadband. Hopefully, Senator Gardner’s efforts will help answer those questions.”

Dan Njegomir

Dan Njegomir

Dan Njegomir is the opinion editor for Colorado Politics. A longtime journalist and more-than-25-year veteran of the Colorado political scene, Njegomir has been an award-winning newspaper reporter, an editorial page editor, a senior legislative staffer at the State Capitol and a political consultant.