The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 as signed by President Obama includes $7.2 billion, or slightly under 1% of its economic stimulus package, in funds allocated for the expansion of broadband infrastructure and related programs. Essential details of the broadband funding programs do not yet exist, but the broad outlines include that the $7.2 billion has been split between $4.7 billion which will be doled out by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), and $2.5 billion to be doled out by the Rural Utilities Service (RUS). The NTIA, in conjunction with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will handle nationwide broadband mapping, the results of which will no doubt be important in the authorization of local projects. For the RUS funds, stated priorities include:
- Applicants who are already current or former borrowers under RUS programs (such as local independent telephone companies)
- Broadband projects which will “deliver end users a choice of more than one service provider” in underserved areas, or provide service to the highest proportion of residents in unserved areas.
- Applicants who demonstrate that with RUS support, the projects will be fully funded, and can begin promptly.
Meanwhile, the FCC announced yesterday its start on the path to creating a “National Broadband Plan” to guide the above economic stimulus spending on broadband investments. The stimulus Act requires the FCC to finish its plan by February 17, 2010 and bring it back to Congress, a timetable which presumably ensures that no spending which waits for the plan, will occur in time for a stimulus effect. The FCC’s April 8 Notice of Inquiry on this topic invites public comment to begin developing the National Broadband Plan.