House Stimulus Plan to Include Funds For Broadband
The House Committee on Appropriations today released details of an economic stimulus package that would include $6 billion in grants to bring high-speed Internet lines to rural and other underserved areas.
The committee, headed by Rep. Dave Obey (D-Wi), also called for $650 million for the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to provide coupons for consumers to buy converter boxes for the Feb. 17 digital television transition.
The broadband and DTV incentives were part of a larger $825 billion stimulus plan that includes grants and tax cuts to transform energy transmission systems, build new roads and bridges, and repair schools. The aim is to jumpstart the economy by creating new jobs.
"With passage of this package, we will face a large deficit for years to come," the committee wrote in its document, "American Recovery and Reinvestment."
"Our short term task is to try to prevent the loss of millions of jobs and get our economy moving," the committee wrote in the report. "The long term task is to make the needed investments that restore the ability of average middle income families to increase their income and build a decent future for their children."
Investments in high-speed Internet, or broadband deployment to underserved areas has been a key element of President-elect Barack Obama's jobs recovery plan and are tied to his vision to bring higher-skilled jobs to rural areas and to help children and businesses compete globally.
Obama's transition team has said achieving the goal of broadband access across the nation -- which is still unavailable to some rural and low-income urban areas -- won't be achieved solely through the stimulus package.
"We do not plan on meeting the broadband goal through the stimulus but instead over the course of his presidency," a source familiar with the thinking of the transition team told The Post earlier this week.
Some programs the incoming administration could tap for broadband deployment include a $7 billion federal fund to deploy phone service to rural areas. That program, analysts said, may be reformed so that at least part of those funds -- which are paid by consumers -- be reallocated for broadband Internet deployment.
Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), who was named to head the Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet, also points to a program run through the Department of Agricultural that has been tapped in his rural district of Virginia to deploy broadband.
"It was a small program for 2008, only like 13 grants made across entire nation for this, but is effective," Boucher said in an interview last week. "A substantial increase in federal funding to that program could effectively and quickly expand broadband."
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