RealTime IT News

House OKs Billions for Broadband

Government broadband stimulus

After a long day of contentious debate, the House passed the $819 billion economic stimulus package -- moving one step closer to a large portion of those funds landing in the laps of tech companies.

The stimulus bill that hit the floor Wednesday morning would funnel billions of dollars to clean energy, health IT and broadband deployment, while an alternate version is making its way through the Senate.

The bill cleared the House by a margin of 244 to 188. Not a single Republican voted for it. Eleven Democrats defected.

Broadband's role in the bill is being especially closely watched by the industry. Its portion of the stimulus windfall could total $6 billion in grants to spur network build-out in rural and underserved areas, which supporters say would create millions of jobs and improve U.S. competitiveness with other leading Internet countries.

Throughout Wednesday's proceedings, Republicans blasted the other side of the aisle for freezing them out of the debate, describing the stimulus package as a kitchen-sink bill larded with government spending that will fail to achieve its primary goal of creating jobs in the short term.

"It's a broad brush of everything the majority has wanted to do in the last decade," said Roy Blunt, R-Mo.

Republicans put forward an alternative bill that would have prioritized tax cuts over government spending, but that was shot down by a largely partisan vote.

In the morning proceedings, Cliff Stearns, R-Fl., tried to derail the House's consideration of the stimulus package altogether, saying that the Rules Committee had "capriciously and arbitrarily" excluded from the final version Republican amendments that had passed in committee. The procedural roll call was shot down by a partisan split of 240 to 174.

President Obama praised the House for passing the stimulus package, and pledged to continue to work with Republicans to strike a compromise as the bill moves to the Senate.

"I hope that we can continue to strengthen this plan before it gets to my desk," Obama said yesterday evening. "But what we can’t do is drag our feet or allow the same partisan differences to get in our way."

Obama met with House and Senate Republican leaders Tuesday to discuss their concerns about the bill, chief among them its massive deficit spending and what they describe as a lack of cooperation in the process.

Speaking after meeting with Obama Tuesday, Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence lauded the president for working in a bipartisan spirit, but the Indiana congressman castigated his Democratic colleagues for failing to do so.

"The bill that is scheduled to come to the floor this week will come to the floor without any consultation among House Republicans, and with categorical opposition to the kind of Republican solutions that we believe are necessary to truly get this economy moving again," Pence said. "The bill that House Democrats will bring to the floor tomorrow will literally be a catch-all of traditional pet programs and more government. The only thing it will stimulate is more government and more debt."

Likely outcomes for broadband's share

The broadband provisions in the House bill differ substantially from the Senate version, which is likely to be more palatable to Republicans. The House bill allocates $6 billion in grants to build out wireless and wireline broadband in rural and underserved areas.

In the Senate, where Democrats hold a narrower majority, members of the Finance Committee introduced an amendment that would add tax cuts to the broadband provisions, which total $9 billion.

Page 2: Weighing possible results