Broadband Stimulus Package Nears Finish Line

The House and Senate held a pre-Valentine’s Day love fest last night and produced a compromise stimulus package; the two houses must now approve the conference bill, after which it would be sent to the president. For details on the full $789 billion plan, you can check out the legislation. We’ve outlined what the $7.2 billion million devoted to broadband funding will buy (if you’re looking for the tax credits, they’re no longer there):

  • The grants will be split among two agencies — something most broadband proponents were against. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration will administer $4.7 billion, and the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service will administer $2.5 billion, which may cause problems for the rural ISPs.
  • There are no longer any speed requirements, which means the federal government, which currently defines broadband at 768 kbps, will determine appropriate speeds for the underserved areas getting grants. Hopefully they will think ahead, and opt to push fiber where it’s reasonable to do so, and fast wireless where it’s not.
  • The grants must all be dispersed by Sept. 30, 2010, and those receiving them have two years to build out infrastructure. Additionally, the FCC has one year to come up with a comprehensive national broadband plan to provide universal coverage and encourage citizens to use the network.
  • Grant recipients must adhere to “non-discrimination and network interconnection obligations.” At a minimum, this means the principles contained in the FCC’s broadband policy statement.
  • The Commerce Committee must gather much-needed data on broadband penetration within the next two years and create a publicly, available searchable database on the NTIA web site. Maybe it will resemble this map of France. The bill allocates $350 million for the project.