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Obama Broadband Internet Plan Short on Details, First Wave of Grants In April

The Obama administration yesterday unveiled the first steps of its plan to pour $8 billion into the construction of new broadband Internet networks around the nation. And while many details haven't been finalized on how the stimulus money will be spent and who will qualify for the grants, interest in the high-speed Internet plan was high.

Long lines stretched outside the Commerce Department building, where the three federal agencies in charge of the broadband stimulus plan hosted the first of seven public meetings. Lobbyists, telecommunications service providers from as far as Arizona and community organizers from Seattle stood in lines that stretched outside the building. They later filled the 400-person auditorium and two overflow rooms.

"I don't think we've had this many people in the Commerce Department since it was built," said Bernadette McGuire-Rivera, associate administrator of the department's telecommunications policy office, the National Telecommunications & Information Administration.

The NTIA said it plans to have three rounds of funding for broadband grants, with the first funds available as early as next month through June. The grants must be awarded by Sept. 30, 2010, and the government must ensure projects are mostly complete within two years. Applicants must also show the project would not have occurred but for the stimulus funding.

Obama has touted the stimulus provision for broadband Internet networks as a way to generate jobs right away; workers will be needed to dig more trenches to lay down fiber and put up more cell towers. He's also focused on broadband as a key to creating valuable high-paying jobs in the future that can help lift troubled economies.

"Without ubiquitous broadband, our citizens -- our country -- will lack the competitive tools necessary for success in the 21st century," said Michael Copps, acting chairman of the Federal Communications Commission.

For carriers and consumers, the funds represent a potential business boon amid the economic drought that has dried up credit markets to fund new projects.

The three agencies in charge of broadband plans include the NTIA, which will oversee $4.7 billion in stimulus funds. The U.S. Department of Agriculture will distribute $2.5 billion in grants and loans. The FCC has been given $350 million to create a better data collection system with a mapping program showing what services are provided in every geography of the nation. The FCC is also supposed to come up with a plan within one year to bring broadband Internet to all Americans. The remainder of the $8 billion will go to administration costs, subsidy programs for low-income users, and audits of the grants.

But before doling out the money, the agencies said they will host a series of public meetings to get comments about how best to implement the program. The next meetings in Washington D.C. will be March 16, 19, 23 and 24. Field hearings will be held on March 17 and 18, respectively.

Mark Seifert, a senior adviser for the NTIA said the agency decided to host the public meetings after receiving more than 2,000 requests for private meetings from telecom companies and other interested parties.

At the hearings and on the NTIA's public comments Web site, interested parties can make recommendations. The stimulus plan was broadly worded in a way that can include wireless, fiber optic and cable networks and the agencies said they will take into consider which technologies make the most sense from an economic and technological perspective for the area served.

By Cecilia Kang  |  March 10, 2009; 3:14 PM ET  | Category:  Cecilia Kang
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You have got to be kidding me? Pushing out this amount of money in this short of time is insane and makes NO sense. This should be done only after the development of a valid Broadband survey.

Giving the USDA more money when they do a poor job now, defies common sense. Change the USDA Telecommunications Program senior staff, and you might have a chance. Without that change in management at the operational level it will be a MAJOR mistake. We deserve better from the USDA Telecommunications Program but, change is needed PLEASE!

Posted by: Zelda01 | March 11, 2009 6:27 AM

"Obama Broadband Internet Plan Short on Details"

pretty much substitute anything you want in for "broadband internet"

Posted by: Waffle1 | March 11, 2009 7:54 AM

I would like to think that this will not only make broadband ubiquitous, but make an end-run around carriers who refuse to get off their wallets and make the bandwidth upgrades we need.

The US is mediocre at best when it comes to Internet speed. The *French* have better and more widespread broadband services than we do, and South Korea blows us away on both speed and price. It's time to fix this.

Posted by: Dwarf_Sidious | March 11, 2009 10:54 AM

The only real valid broadband technologies for rural penetration are WiMax and LTE wireless technologies. Therefore just give the 8 Billion to the wireless carriers and force them to use the money to develop wireless broadband in rural areas where cell service already exists. No need for these silly grants to small companies and meetings that will accomplish nothing and waste the money.

Posted by: icmp | March 11, 2009 1:40 PM

Keeping up with the "jones's" isn't a good reason to spend 8 billion dollars.

Using France as an example or South Korea, is hardly a valid comparison.

Taking the time to evaluate what is really needed for the long term should be the goal, not meeting an arbitrary pie in the sky date of 2010.

Giving the USDA more money without changes to the current operational management is just perpetuating and encouraging more of the same outdated ineffectual decisions but, with even more money…….

Posted by: Zelda01 | March 11, 2009 1:47 PM

In addition to investing public funds, a serious effort needs to be made to break the current oligopoly in the broadband market. Community-based non-for-profit (and not-for-loss) utilities and cooperatives might be better suited to build the additional infrastructure that is long overdue in rural areas. On top of that, the FCC should quickly ensure that new wireless providers, who can provider modern services at much lower costs, enter the market. There is no sense that today we still do not have an affordable flat rate for broadband access via mobile devices. It's shameful and this awful situation remains as one of the main obstacles to achieve greater competitiveness in all areas.

Posted by: JohnCe | March 11, 2009 3:19 PM

What a huge waste of taxpayer monies! Just because people have access does not mean they can afford the monthly bills to support broadband.
This turkey reminds of the fiber optic cable mania a few years ago that no one talks about today.

Posted by: morningglory51 | March 11, 2009 4:26 PM

speedtest.net
I'm in eastern europe right now, I get higher speeds to Los Angeles from here than I could get from most places I lived in the states.

Why? Because I have a fiber connection. The telecomms in the US find they get a higher return on investment paying lawyers to bribe legislators to pass laws supporting their copper monopolies than they would get by investing in better technology.

That's what you get when executroids are running technology companies.

Let me spew some self-righteousness here: How DARE you money-grubbing pricks suppress advanced technology in the US. How can it possibly be that I get better speeds 6750 miles from Los Angeles than I can get from San Diego?

Posted by: khote14 | March 11, 2009 5:16 PM

You can forget about wireless or Wimax as a technology for reaching the population that does not now have Broadband Internet access. In a great portion of the great plains states the ranch and farm homes are so many miles apart you would have to almost have one tower per customer. In most of the midwest states (further east) you would need many thousand towers because of the hills and valleys. Lets build it right the first time with fiber to the homes and businesses <> now being done in hundreds of rural communities including fiber to the farmers and ranchers.

Posted by: Onlyfacts1 | March 12, 2009 11:01 AM

Not one architecture will work for all of the US, it will be a hybrid solution.

Push out fiber as far as practical using fiscally sound engineering principals to insure limited bottle necks and some redundancy on primary paths and then use wireless in the last mile or so, let technology solve that issue of cost vs bandwidth trade offs.

Trenching over 3 miles to get to 1 customer is insane, no matter what country you live in….

Fiber to the home works well in congested areas where the pay back is sound and it works in small towns as well as urban environments. The density of the service is the key to FTTH rural application but, fiber should be pushed out as far as practical.

Posted by: Zelda01 | March 12, 2009 11:29 AM

I have seen comments about lack of competition ... in the state of Nebraska there is competition in almost evey community. There are 37 Telephone Company providers in the state and about 50 privately owned non-telephone and non-cable providers <> most providing wireless although some are providing DSL based broadband. Numerous commuinties, even small communities of about 400 population will have the telephone company providing DSL or fiber to the premise and then two wireless providers - - in some communities you can add a forth provider, the cable company.

Posted by: Onlyfacts1 | March 12, 2009 12:52 PM

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