Rural Development:

Steps Towards Realizing the Potential of Telecommunications Technologies

RCED-96-155: Published: Jun 14, 1996. Publicly Released: Jun 14, 1996.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed rural communities' efforts to develop advanced telecommunications technologies, focusing on: (1) federal programs that fund rural telecommunications projects; (2) lessons learned for developing such projects; and (3) whether changes to these programs are needed.

GAO found that: (1) as of December 1995, there were at least 28 programs that provided discretionary development funds for rural telecommunications projects; (2) 13 designated programs provided about $715.8 million for 540 telecommunications projects; (3) program users and rural development experts believe that rural communities need a basic understanding of telecommunications technologies and their potential benefits, strategic plans to determine the technical and financial feasibility of telecommunications development, and partnerships among key players involved in constructing, financing, and using telecommunications networks; (4) rural development experts and public officials believe that telecommunications programs could be improved by educating rural communities on the potential benefits of telecommunications technologies, building in requirements for considering telecommunications technologies in long-range planning, and making multiple federal programs easier to use; (5) most federal agencies lack the resources required for educational outreach programs; and (6) 1996 legislation emphasizes the need for rural communities to include telecommunications projects in their long-term planning and coordination of multiple federal programs.

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