Both the House and the Senate have their stimulus plans and both contain money for improving Web speeds and extending internet broadband to unserved rural areas. The House bill has $6 billion in its broadband kitty. The Senate has larded away $9 billion. So, how do the two plans differ, besides the amounts they would spend?
The House plan splits its $6 billion between the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service and the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). Ag has to spend 75% of its half, or $2.25 billion, in “rural area(s) without sufficient access to high-speed broadband service.” (The Federal Communications Commission would decide what constitutes an un-served or underserved area.) The House would require this new service to be “open access,” which means that competitors would be allowed to use the new infrastructure.
The Senate ponied up $9 billion for broadband, half of which would be set aside to extend service to rural areas. The Senate version doe NOT send the money to USDA. The entire $9 billion would go to the NTIA’s Technology Opportunities Program. The Senate bill would allow the Commerce Department to transfer some money to USDA, but leaves that up to negotiations between the two cabinets. Also, the Senate version does not require “open access.”