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.
March 10, 2009; 3:14 PM ET
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