Stimulus package moves one step forward
The House of Representatives has voted for an $819 billion economic stimulus package. The bill includes $275 billion in tax cuts, $523 billion in direct spending and other provisions.
The Senate has yet to vote on the bill.
The House bill (full text here) includes billions of dollars for broadband projects. The vote was largely along party lines, with all Republicans voting against it, joined by a small handful of Democrats.
The bill includes $2.8 million for the existing Broadband Deployment Grant Program, which funds rural access; $1 billion is to be devoted to wireless grants; and the balance to broadband grants. The money must be granted by September.
Another $650 million was allocated to be used in association with the digital transition, including money for the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s (NTIA) program to provide coupons for analog-to-digital converter boxes, which consumers can use to defray the costs of converters necessary to continue to get over-the-air reception of TV after the digital transition.
Other allocations of possible interest to the communications services industry included $11 billion to upgrade the country’s electrical system to a so-called smart grid, and another $17 billion for health information technology.
Also funded is the Broadband Data Improvement Act, which provides funding to map broadband deployment across the country. Through recent years, FCC data on broadband availability has been consistently challenged, largely on the grounds that the data collection process is inadequate, in part because the process is under-funded.
The package included a set of tax cuts, a few specifically aimed at companies providing broadband infrastructure in rural areas. General tax cuts include a payroll-tax holiday ($99 billion), business expensing tax breaks ($90 billion and a renewable-energy tax credit ($20 billion).
Unemployment insurance ($42 billion) and health insurance for the unemployed ($40 billion) were both expanded, as was a program for housing assistance ($11 billion).
Money was set aside for renovations and upgrades to highways ($30 billion), schools ($20 billion) and transportation projects ($16 billion).
The Obama Administration has already made it clear that the stimulus package will not be the main vehicle for broadband legislation and policy.