Congress is nearing enactment of multi-billion dollar economic stimulus legislation, with the goal of delivering a bill to President Obama's desk before the Presidents' Day recess that is scheduled to begin on February 13. Both the House and Senate bills propose to commit billions in new spending to expand access to broadband services. This PDF document, prepared by Sonnenschein's communications and public policy professionals, compares and contrasts the key broadband provisions of H.R. 1, the stimulus bill approved by the House on Jan. 28, 2009, and S. 1, the Senate stimulus bill on which debate began on February 2 and is headed for a floor vote in the coming days. Many of the broadband provisions are similar, but there are important differences that will require reconciliation before final adoption.
The details of the House and Senate bills determine which agencies will administer the funds and who will be eligible to participate in the broadband programs. In H.R. 1, for example, the Rural Utilities Service (RUS) of the Department of Agriculture is funded with $2.825 billion to make loans and loan guarantees for broadband services, provided that 75 percent of the area served by a project is rural. For its part, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) of the Department of Commerce is directed to award an equal amount in grants for wireless and broadband access, with 25 percent earmarked for "unserved" areas and 75 percent for "underserved" areas. The legislation further directs the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to define "unserved" and "underserved" within 45 days. In the Senate version, $9 billion in funding is provided exclusively to the NTIA for its Broadband Technology Opportunities Program, subject to funding public computing centers and programs to encourage adoption of broadband service. Further, 50 percent of the funds appropriated in the Senate bill would be required to support projects in rural communities and NTIA could transfer funding to the RUS for this purpose. Moreover, the Senate measure includes tax relief for the purchase of broadband Internet access, depending upon the technology purchased and the geographic location of the purchaser. Both bills subject funding to "net neutrality" principles of openness to be defined by or with the FCC, and both bills appropriate $350 million to the NTIA to map broadband buildout.
The terms of the legislation will change as the legislative process continues. We anticipate updating this document as changes are adopted to the broadband provisions.