Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Broadband and the Stimulus Package

The $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, being signed in Denver today by President Obama, includes $7.2 billion directed towards broadband deployment in rural and other unserved and underserved areas in the United States. I find it especially encouraging to see broadband considered "infrastructure" - just like roads and bridges - in the bill. Here's an interesting USA Today quote from Gene Kimmelman of Consumer Union:

With a baseline established, Kimmelman says, he expects major public policy shifts to follow, with the goal of making broadband available and affordable to all Americans.

I personally believe Kimmelman is right - broadband availability and affordability are critical to our economic recovery and will allow us to better compete with the rest of the world. Not everyone agrees.

To track where your money goes, www.recovery.gov was launched today. Here's a quote from the site:

The site will include information about Federal grant awards and contracts as well as formula grant allocations. Federal agencies will provide data on how they are using the money, and eventually, prime recipients of Federal funding will provide information on how they are using their Federal funds. On our end, we will use interactive graphics to illustrate where the money is going, as well as estimates of how many jobs are being created, and where they are located. And there will be search capability to make it easier for you to track the funds.

Here's how the funds will be distributed (from www.sppedmatters.org):

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) will receive $4.7 billion to distribute as grants designed to improve broadband deployment in unserved and under-served areas, increase broadband adoption, improve access to broadband by public safety agencies, and stimulate the economy and create jobs.

The remaining $2.5 billion will go to the Rural Utilities Service, which works to connect rural Americans to broadband, allowing them to reach all the services and opportunities the digital age has to offer.

The bill also requires that $350 million of the funding go toward the Broadband Data Improvement Act for mapping and community initiatives, at least $200 million to expand public computer center capacity in libraries and community colleges, and at least $250 million for programs encouraging broadband adoption.

Finally, as part of the stimulus package, the FCC must submit a report to Congress containing a national broadband plan that details the most effective ways to ensure broadband access for all Americans.

We'll be watching.

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