Friday, January 16, 2009

Broadband infrastructure provisions of U.S. economic stimulus legislation

The House Appropriations Committee has released a draft of the economic stimulus legislation titled the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 appropriating $6 billion in loans, loan guarantees and grants for the build out open access broadband telecommunications infrastructure.

Slightly less than half of the funds will be directed to the Rural Utilities Service prioritizing rural areas that received funding for electrification under the Rural Electrification Act of 1936. The Secretary of Agriculture would determine which rural areas lack sufficient access to high speed broadband service.

The balance of the funding would be directed to a State Broadband Data and Development Grant Program administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. (NTIA) $1 billion would be allocated to wireless and $1.85 billion to wireline broadband; up to 20 percent could be shifted between wireless and wireline.

Within 75 days of the proposed legislation's enactment, states desiring access to funding would be required to submit reports to the NTIA identifying areas with the greatest need for broadband infrastructure. States would be required to identify those areas that lack basic wireline broadband -- defined asymetrically under the measure as capable of providing throughput of at least (not "up to") 5 Mbs download and 1 Mbs upload -- and advanced wireline broadband -- defined asymetrically as 45 Mbs download and 20 Mbs for uploads. Both voice only and advanced wireless telecommunications infrastructure are eligible for funding, however 75 percent would be set aside for advanced wireless infrastructure in capable of providing broadband connectivity of 3 Mbs down and 1 Mbs up.

Lacking from the throughput requirements for both wireline and wireless broadband are latency standards, which should be a maximum of 50-60 milliseconds.


Notably, entities eligible for grant funding include private providers of broadband services, states, local governments and other entities as authorized by the NTIA. The measure requires the agency to adopt rules to prevent unjust enrichment of grant recipients including meeting build out requirements for proposed projects.

The bill leaves it to the Federal Communications Commission to define broadband ‘‘unserved" and "underserved" areas as well as what constitutes open access broadband infrastructure. I would suggest that it be defined to mean the opposite of the proprietary broadband infrastructure owned by the large telcos and cable companies that has been only partially built out, leaving gaping broadband black holes and lack of access to modern IP-based telecommunications services. As World Wide Web creator Vint Cerf observed in 2008, these providers have impeded the expansion of broadband since they have large amounts invested in legacy infrastructure that was never intended for broadband and IP-based services.

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