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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

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