Government to Pour Billions into Broadband Push

By Ericka Chickowski  |  Print this article Print


Desktop-as-a-Service Designed for Any Cloud ? Nutanix Frame

The U.S. Commerce Department announces a call for grant and loan applications to help expand high-speed Internet beyond the last mile to underserved communities across the country.

The mad dash to grab a slice of the technology stimulus pie began in earnest last week when the federal government announced the availability of $4 billion in loans and grants earmarked for the expansion of broadband access across the United States.

Technology partners of all stripes are being called upon by the federal government to help expand high-speed Internet beyond the last mile to underserved communities across the country. The announced funds were released by the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) as a part of the  Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service, initiatives that will include construction of backbone infrastructure, public computing centers and the implementation of awareness and education programs. Politicians claim the end result will improve the country’s competitiveness while fueling job growth during the build out.

"The Commerce Department’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program will reach the last frontiers of America’s information landscape, and the investments it makes in inner-city neighborhoods and rural communities will spur innovation and pave the way for private capital to follow," said Commerce Secretary Gary Locke in a statement. "This first wave of funding will help create jobs, jumpstart additional investment and provide model projects that can better inform our national broadband strategy."

However, even though the released funds are part of the massive $787 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, they are actually largely exempt from the bill’s Buy American provisions. According to the notice in the Federal Register released last week, the global nature of manufacturing network components led the Commerce Department to conclude that "implementing the BTOP without a limited programmatic waiver encompassing broadband network components would jeopardize the success of the program and undermine the broadband initiative."

The notice waived Buy American requirements for broadband switching, routing, transport, access, and customer premises equipment, plus end-user devices and billing and operations systems.

"It would be difficult, if not impossible, for a BTOP applicant to have certain knowledge of the manufacturing origins of each component of a broadband network," Anna Gomez, acting assistant secretary for communications and information for the Commerce Department, said in a statement. "The requirement to do so would be so overwhelmingly burdensome as to deter participation in the program."

Though the waivers offered relief to telecommunications providers, the government did not offer leniency on another hot button issue: net neutrality. Within the Notice of Funds Availability, the NTIA specifically mandated that loan and grant recipients must provide neutral traffic routing to remain eligible for funds.

"The first major decision regarding broadband policy by the new administration sets a clear course in favor of the open Internet," Markham Erickson, Open Internet Coalition executive director, told Reuters.

All interested parties are called upon by the Commerce Department and USDA to apply between July 14 and Aug. 14. Details can be found at www.broadbandusa.gov.


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