The broadband-telecommunications arena has been targeted for $6 billion in funding approved Friday by the House Committee on Appropriations. The funding is part of the draft stimulus package currently working its way through Congress, which stands at a whopping $825 billion.
The bill also includes $650 million in additional funding for digital-conversion coupons. The coupons, from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), subsidize the purchase of converter boxes required so over-the-air TVs can continue to pick up television signals after the conversion to digital TV on Feb. 17.
Helping Rural Economies
Because of the demand for the coupons, the NTIA exhausted its $1.3 billion coupon fund earlier this month. President-Elect Barack Obama has urged the Federal Communications Commission to delay the transition to minimize the TV audience that could be cut off. The coupons are worth $40, and the converter boxes range from $40 to $80.
The overall stimulus plan also includes grants and tax cuts to upgrade energy-transmission systems, construct new roads and bridges, and modernize schools. The plan is intended to give a boost to the ailing economy and spur the creation of new jobs.
The inclusion of broadband in the plan is part of Obama's vision to keep the country's telecommunications infrastructure on par with other nations, especially given the global economy, and to help the economies of rural America.
According to news reports, though, the Obama transition team is not looking to accomplish these substantial goals only through the funding provided in the stimulus package. Rather, the unnamed sources indicate, it will be a sustained effort throughout Obama's presidency.
Praise for 'Open Access' Principles
Some consumer and broadband advocacy groups have proposed a substantially larger amount to bring broadband access to more Americans. For example, one higher-education organization, Educause, has sought $100 billion over four years, with about a third from the federal government, to provide 100 Mbps or greater service to every home and business in the United States.
Public Knowledge, a Washington, D.C.-based public-interest group, has lauded the stimulus package's open-network provisions, as well as its allocation of funding for broadband. The bill states that grant recipients must adhere to "open access principles."
The stimulus plan also includes $20 billion for health programs. Improving the efficiency of the health-care system through better use of technology was a key goal throughout Obama's presidential campaign.
Peter Jarich, an analyst with industry research firm Current Analysis, said the funding for broadband access would not affect the business plans of the "Verizons of the world." But, he added, it could help boost the adoption of broadband through wireless rather than wired access.
Image credit: United States Senate .