On February 10, 2009, the U.S. Senate approved by a 61-38 vote a massive $838 Billion stimulus bill (The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act)("ARRA") consisting of tax cuts, tax rebates and infrastructure and other spending to create jobs. The winning vote consisted of 56 Democrats, 3 Republicans (Senators Collins and Snowe of Maine, and Senator Specter of Pennsylvania) and 2 Independents voting for the bill, following a 61-36 vote on February 9, 2009 to close debate. The U.S. House of Representatives passed its own $819 stimulus bill on January 28, 2009 with no Republican support.
The substitute version of the ARRA that was passed by the Senate was crafted by Senators Collins (R. Me.) and Ben Nelson (D. Neb.). It cuts broadband funding to be administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) from the $9 Billion in the ARRA version approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee to $7 Billion. However, that amount is still $1 Billion more that the House had included for broadband grants in its stimulus bill. The broadband provisions in the Senate bill provide for NTIA funding for competitive grants: $250M for sustainable adoption of broadband service and $200M for expanding public computer center capacity.
As in the House bill, an additional $350M is earmarked for NTIA-administered broadband mapping projects to evaluate where broadband services are currently deployed. Similarly, the Senate bill and House bill provide for additional funding of $650M for digital TV converter box coupons and outreach following the earlier extension of the digital TV transition by Congress from February 17 to June 12, 2009. However the Collins/Nelson substitute bill reduced by half the amount called for by the Appropriations Committee version to be spent for distance learning and telemedicine services in rural areas (now $100M), and for the costs of developing a nationwide integrated wireless network supporting Federal law enforcement (now $100M).
For those already with access to broadband, the Senate bill provides broadband tax credits of 10% for broadband provider expenditures on current-generation broadband services (5 Mb downstream/1Mb upstream) and 20% for expenditures on (a) next-generation broadband services (at least 100 Mb downstream/20 Mb upstream for terrestrial broadband and 6 Mb downstream/2Mb upstream for wireless broadband) or (b) current generation broadband services for unserved subscribers.
The respective House and Senate versions of the Stimulus package now head to a House-Senate Conference Committee to resolve differences between the two bills. Senate Majority Leader Reid hopes to have both the House and Senate pass an agreed upon bill by Friday, February 13, so that President Obama can sign a bill before the Presidents Day Holiday.