Accountability

Published — October 13, 2010 Updated — May 19, 2014 at 12:19 pm ET

Boosting U.S. broadband access will require reasonable fees, watchdog says

Introduction

The United States has already deployed broadband Internet use to 95 percent of Americans but it will reach the final 5 percent only if monthly fees are affordable for consumers, a new Government Accountability Office report says.

In both deployment and adoption rates for high-speed Internet, the United States has fallen to the middle of the pack among member nations of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, raising concerns about economic growth.

The GAO found that cost is one of the deterrents for about one-third of Americans without broadband internet access.

“Action will be required by governments at all levels and the private sector to deploy broadband infrastructure to the last 5 percent of households at a reasonable cost and to promote broadband usage and adoption by increasing digital literacy and making broadband services more affordable for certain populations, especially the elderly and the economically disadvantaged,” the GAO said. Rolling out the Federal Communications Commission’s national broadband plan will require both “sufficient funding” and coordinating the work of multiple federal, state, local, and private entities, it added.

Other OECD member nations have used public/private partnerships to increase Internet access to rural and low-income areas, as well as providing rebates and encouraging competition among Internet providers to drive down costs, the GAO said. The FCC’s national broadband plan aims to use some of the same techniques to achieve its goal of having 100 million American homes with access to affordable, high-speed Internet by 2020.

FAST FACT: Household income drives broadband Internet use among developed countries. Within the OECD, Turkey has the lowest adoption rate and the lowest gross national income out of the countries surveyed.

Following are other new watchdog reports released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), various federal Offices of Inspector General (OIG), and other government entities. Congressional Research Service reports, which prepared for lawmakers but not made public, were provided by the Center for Democracy and Technology:

FINANCE

  • China’s $1.2 trillion holdings in U.S. securities raises questions about how long such a high U.S. reliance on foreign investment can be sustained and what risks to the economy come with it (Congressional Research Service).
  • Banks handling real estate investment trusts, commercial mortgage-backed securities, and other commercial real estate investment vehicles should file “suspicious activity reports” with Treasury Dept. when they see possible fraud. In one recent case, an unnamed hedge fund made 50 percent profits in a series of commercial mortgage-backed securities trades suspected of being pre-arranged (Financial Crimes Enforcement Network).

HEALTH CARE

  • Out of $1.6 million in 2007 reviewed costs, the California Transplant Donor Network overcharged Medicare by about $84,735 for kidney organ costs, including money spent for a retirement party, gifts, and lobbying (OIG).
  • Centers for Disease Control and the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service should offer limited immunity to encourage more reporting of the theft, loss, and release of biological materials and agents (GAO).
  • Seven health care providers in California and Hawaii billed Medicare nearly twice the correct amount for the drug Neulasta to stimulate white blood cells in elderly cancer patients; Medicare spent $1.7 billion on the drug nationwide in 2004-07 (OIG).
  • Nutrition ratings and symbols on the front of food packages should highlight calories, saturated fat, trans fat, and sodium to help health-conscious consumers. Nutrition experts will next tackle a report assessing whether a standardized food label is needed on the front of food packages, and if it should be regulated by the FDA (Institute of Medicine).
  • Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services should use historical data to target fee-for-service providers with a past record of overcharging the agency. In 2008, Medicare spent $310 billion on fee-for-service treatments, which accounted for 70 percent of Medicare’s total spending of $445 billion (OIG).

MISC.

  • FAA and National Weather Service should develop plan for improved weather information in addition to continuing the existing NWS units at 21 high-altitude flight control centers through September 2011 (GAO).
  • U.S. embassy in Beijing has 10,000 followers of its Twitter account — out of an estimated 50,000 active Twitter users in China — and is also using blogs and web chats for public diplomacy efforts to reach the almost 400 million Chinese with access to the Internet (OIG).

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