The Updated Fate of Broadband in the Stimulus Bill

Legislation changes faster than the weather in Texas, so the tweaks to the broadband sections in President Barack Obama’s stimulus bill are nothing unusual. But as the debates get down to the wire (a stimulus package should be finalized be the end of this week), it’s time to revisit the legislation’s effect on broadband providers.

The latest efforts appear to be taking the dollar amount for broadband grants in the Senate bill from $9 billion to $7 billion and increasing the tax credits for broadband deployments, as well as limiting their use to rural areas. Wireless also got a boost in the tax credits with faster wireless broadband speeds of 6 Mbps down becoming eligible for a 40 percent credit, while speeds of only 3 Mbps down could receive a 30 percent break. [qi:050] Beyond the dollar-amount debates, there’s also disagreement about which agency will administer the grants. Most policy watchers would like to see the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration oversee the grant program rather than having several agencies involved, according to Broadband Census.

The talk over the current legislation is bringing up deeper debates that will likely come up again when Obama pulls together his plans for universal broadband. One issue pits wireless broadband against fiber for rural deployments. Another issue focuses on the role of the Federal Communications Commission in any deployment plan. Some in the communications industry want the FCC to merely provide data on broadband penetration, while those in the consumer watchdog groups call for it to take an active role in designing grant programs.