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Broadband Stimulus Nears House Vote

Rural Broadband stimulus

WASHINGTON -- After sparring over how billions could be spent on building out U.S. broadband through the economic stimulus package, lawmakers have cleared the way for a House vote on the matter as early as next week.

The broadband portion of the stimulus bill would allocate $6 billion in grants to spur network build-out in rural and underserved areas. The funds would also bankroll efforts to improve government data collection about broadband penetration.

The measure now heads to the House floor with its key provisions unchanged after a vote by the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The Senate has yet to produce its version of a stimulus bill.

In a markup session that is expected to run well into the evening, House Energy and Commerce Committee members will also consider language in the bill concerning federal funding for clean energy initiatives and health IT, where it also has jurisdiction.

The committee's vote on the broadband measure came despite the objections of several Republicans members, who warned against including Net-neutrality provisions in the bill.

They also questioned the wisdom of attaching other conditions, such as high connection-speed requirements, to the grants that would be administered to ISPs.

Several Republicans also seized the opportunity to challenge the approach of the entire stimulus bill, which would seek to create or preserve 3 million to 4 million jobs by infusing numerous segments of the economy with $825 billion in government spending and tax credits.

In their opening statements at today's hearing, many Republicans lashed out against what they considered an overly hasty rush to get the legislation passed, warning Democrats against establishing a "rubber-stamp" regime.

"I think it is abominable that a bill that's 269 pages is going to be the object of a one-day markup," said Rep. Joe Barton of Texas, who is the ranking Republican on the committee. "We've not even had one hearing in this Congress on these issues."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said that she wants to vote on the bill next week, drawing protests from Republicans who feel they are being frozen out of the debate.

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