Broadband gets huge boost with stimulus bill

Passage of the stimulus bill means about $7 billion in grants and tax incentives will be available for the build out of broadband technology in the United States. The package boosts President Obama’s campaign promise to re-establish a national priority for broadband technology after its decline under the Bush administration.

According to Public Knowledge and the Free Press, two public interest groups supporting the legislation, the compromise contains open network, interconnection and nondiscrimination provisions attached to the grant money. The National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA) will distribute the money, with some help from the FCC in defining who qualifies.

“The open network requirements were necessary because the public deserves benefits from the large sums of public money that will be distributed,” Public Knowledge president Gigi Sohn told the “Washington Post.”

Ben Scott, policy director of Free Press, said the legislation has substantial funds both for “unserved and underserved areas to promote new and better deployment of broadband services nationwide.”

A tax credit for companies that install new broadband service was cut from the stimulus bill. Originally proposed by Sen. John D. Rockefeller, the West Virginia Democrat who chairs the Senate Commerce Committee, the credit favored Verizon Communications.

The compromise plan also eliminated rules meant to encourage the deployment of very fast service. The House bill allocated three-quarters of the grant money to broadband systems that offered download speeds of at least 45Mb/s. Only Verizon’s FiOS service, and some of the most advanced cable systems, offer service at that speed.