House Committee Signs Off On Broadband Expansion
The program, part of a proposed $6 billion broadband package, calls for the U.S. National Telecommunications and Information Administration to make up to $2.85 billion in grants to companies that will build out broadband and wireless networks. That measure is just one component of a far-reaching $825 billion economic stimulus proposal.
"Broadband investments are important because they have a tremendous multiplier effect on our economy," committee chair Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said in a statement.
The bill specifies that grant recipients must adhere to the Federal Communications Commission's 2005 broadband policy statement, which set out net neutrality principles. In that statement, the FCC said that consumers are entitled to access all lawful content, to run applications of their choice, and to connect legal devices that don't harm the network.
The FCC takes the position that those principles are binding on Internet service providers. Last year, the agency sanctioned Comcast for violating the policy statement by slowing peer-to-peer traffic. (Comcast, which is appealing the FCC's ruling, argues that the principles were never legally binding because they are neither laws or regulations.)
Digital rights groups cheered the lawmakers for incorporating those standards in the new package. "We're very pleased that Energy and Commerce moved quickly to get this bill through and that they left in the 'open Internet' requirement," said Derek Turner, research director of Free Press.
Seventy-five percent of the grant money allocated Thursday would go to underserved portions of the country, while 25% of it would go to areas that currently lack all broadband.
Wired broadband providers would be required to offer speeds of at least 5Mbps downstream and 1Mbps upstream for the areas that now completely lack high-speed Web access. Those who build networks in "underserved" areas would have to offer speeds of at least 45 Mbps upstream and 15 Mbps downstream.