House support and battlelines for broadband grants

The House Energy and Commerce Committee has approved rules on the use of $2.8 billion for high-speed broadband access, a part of a proposed $6 billion in broadband investments within the larger economic stimulus package.

On Thursday, rules were approved for the grants to be handed out by the Commerce Department; there's another $3.2 billion that will be doled out under the U.S. Department of Agriculture rural development grants program.

The Commerce Department's broadband grants have several strings attached, including a requirement that networks built with the money have "open access" obligations and be open to all devices regardless of manufacturer or provider. CTIA, representing wireless carriers, sent a letter to committee leaders on Wednesday asking that the open access obligation be lifted, but the appeal fell on deaf ears. Net neutrality and open access principles seem to be the word of the day for now.

Other requirements include minimum "advanced" wired speeds of 45 Mbps downstream and 15 Mbps upstream and "advanced" minimum wireless speeds of 3 Mbps/1 Mbps; basic broadband access is defined as 5 Mbps/1Mbps. There are various goals woven into the bill to allocate monies for areas that have "unserved" (no broadband) or "underserved" (no advanced-speed) services, and about $1 billion of the bill is carved out to go to wireless service providers for expand capabilities in their mobile wireless and Internet service.

Finally, there's $350 million in funding for a broadband mapping project to identify areas of the country that are unserved or underserved, in order to target the rest of the money to areas of the greatest need.

For more:
- Wall Street Journal article
- Initial markup language on the House website. Document.

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