On February 17, 2009, President Obama signed the "American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009," which commits $787 billion in spending and tax cuts intended to stimulate the economy and create or preserve millions of jobs. The new law allocates $7.2 billion of that spending for broadband infrastructure investments, with $4.7 billion to be distributed by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) within the Department of Commerce, and $2.5 billion by the Rural Utilities Service (RUS) within the Department of Agriculture.
The NTIA's "Broadband Technology Opportunities Program" is intended to create jobs and economic opportunities - along with educational, healthcare, and public safety benefits - by improving the affordability, subscribership, and speed of broadband access in "unserved" and "underserved" areas. NTIA must define "unserved" and "underserved" areas and "broadband" speeds for wireline and wireless networks, respectively. Grants are to be awarded based on competitive proposals, with at least one grant in each state, and all grants must be awarded by September 30, 2010. Eligible grantees may include state and local governments, non-profit entities, wireline and wireless carriers, satellite operators, and backhaul and tower companies. Grantees must comply with nondiscrimination and interconnection requirements, including the FCC's four network neutrality principles.
The RUS's "Distance Learning, Telemedicine, and Broadband Program" will provide grants and guaranteed loans for broadband infrastructure primarily in rural areas that the agency finds to be without sufficient access to high speed broadband service to facilitate rural economic development. No area of a project receiving funding from the RUS program will be eligible for NTIA funds. The law also specifies many other detailed criteria and priorities for the NTIA and RUS programs, respectively.
In addition, the law directs the FCC to develop a "national broadband plan" within one year. This plan is to evaluate the status of broadband deployment, analyze the most effective and efficient mechanisms for ensuring broadband access throughout the country, and specify a strategy to maximize affordability and usage of such service and achieve a range of public benefits.