Economic stimulus package: $6 billion for broadband

The $825 billion economic stimulus proposal includes $6 billion for improving U.S. broadband infrastructure - but no tax breaks.

A summary of the proposed spending released by House Democrats calls for the money to be used for "broadband and wireless grants in under-served areas to strengthen the economy and provide business and job opportunities in every section of America, with benefits to e-commerce, education, and health care. For every dollar invested in broadband, the economy sees a ten-fold return on that investment."

Phone and cable companies were hoping and lobbying for tax breaks, but the wireless industry considers the proposal a win since they wanted to be included in any broadband stimulus program.

Earlier in the week, Obama transition team member Blair Levin said that any monies which came from the economic stimulus package would likely use "existing structures" and programs to get money pumped into the economy in a timely fashion. The Wall Street Journal has tallied up a list of existing programs and departments that might be handing out the cash, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Broadband Loan and Guarantee Program, the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), and possible a one-time shot into the FCC's Universal Service Fund mechanism.

Public interest groups were hoping upwards of $44 billion to be spent, but $6 billion is a good start for Free Press - so long as tax dollars aren't used to fund "closed, proprietary networks that shut out content providers, control consumer behavior and encourage anticompetitive activity."  Well!  Free Press wants strings, including "mandatory requirements" to insure non-discrimination (i.e. Net Neutrality).

There's also likely to be a brewing dog fight over the definition of what broadband should be, with some companies and public interest groups calling for 100 Mbps download speeds, while others might be content to see a modest 10-50 Mbps download speed. Lower download speeds might allow Clearwire and other wireless broadband buildouts to fit in.

For more:
- Wall Street Journal reports on the $6 billion stalking horse. Blog.
- DSL Reports provides a little more detail here.
- And RCR Wireless has its stimulus package spin here.

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