Senate Stimulus Passes with $7 billion broadband investment plan

Today the Senate passed its version of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan, including $7 billion in broadband investment. While this represents a $2 billion cut for broadband from the original Senate proposal, it is still more generous than the $6 billion in the bill passed by the House of Representatives last month.

The stimulus bill now moves to conference, where Senate and House conferees will iron out the differences. Besides the divergence in the funding levels, conferees will address a number of issues.

The Senate Broadband provisions fund grants to public-private partnerships, state and local governments and non-profits with the purpose of deploying broadband in unserved and underserved areas and increasing adoption rates. Unlike the House bill, grants are technology-neutral, and allow local communities working with providers and stakeholders greater flexibility in crafting proposals geared to local needs.

Under the Senate provisions, the grants will be administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and require a 20 percent match. At least 50 percent of the funding must go to rural areas. The House bill divides the funding between the NTIA and the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS) and has no match requirement. Putting grant-making authority in one agency -- the NTIA -- will reduce confusion, inconsistency, and repetitiveness.

Of the $7 billion total available in the Senate bill, $250 million is allocated to increase adoption rates, $200 million for upgrading technology and capacity at community computing centers such as libraries and community colleges, and $350 million for funding the Broadband Data Improvement Act. An additional $100 million is included for the Department of Agriculture Rural Utilities Service's distance learning and telemedicine broadband loans and grants program.

The Senate bill provides temporary, targeted tax credits for investment in rural broadband deployment. Because tax incentives flow through the economy more quickly, a combination of tax incentives and grants will be most effective in spurring broadband and creating jobs. The House bill does not contain a broadband tax provision.

SpeedMatters will keep you posted as this important provision moves forward. We can all take credit in the progress we have made thus far.

American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (U.S. Senate)

Proposed Economic Stimulus Plan Includes $6 Billion for Broadband (Speed Matters)

President Bush signs Broadband Data Improvement Act (Speed Matters)

Rural Development Distance Learning and Telemedicine Program (USDA)