Dems Propose $6 Billion in Wireless/Broadband Grants

Billions more may be available for wireless initiatives across a wide spectrum of areas, from education to manufacturing.

House Democrats have released some of the details of their massive economic recovery bill, which features a stunning $825 billion price tag, including $6 billion in grants for wireless and broadband initiatives.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Bill of 2009, which exceeds President-elect Obama’s earlier figure of $775 billion, was crafted exclusively by the incoming President’s party and is expected to receive some stiff opposition from Republicans, some of whom are already speaking out against it.

Most of the bill, which was announced by the House Appropriations Committee (HAC) on Thursday, will be direct government spending, while one-third of the funds are tax cuts for individuals and businesses. The bill is designed to create and save up to four million jobs. It lists among its top priorities, “transforming our economy with science and technology,” and “education for the 21stcentury.”

The bill focuses heavily on education, health care, energy, and infrastructure projects, including $6 billion to build-out broadband access in underserved areas. Democrats believe this will “strengthen the economy and provide business and job opportunities in every section of America with benefits to e-commerce, education, and healthcare. For every dollar invested in broadband, the economy sees a ten-fold return on that investment.”

No specifics have yet been given about which technologies under the broad umbrella of “wireless” might be used; nor who would be eligible, or how the funds would be distributed. Wi-Fi and WiMAX were not mentioned in the bill.

“We need to put scientists to work looking for the next great discovery, creating jobs in cutting-edge-technologies, and making smart investments that will help businesses in every community succeed in a global economy. For every dollar invested in broadband the economy sees a ten-fold return on that investment,” reads the HAC summary of the bill.

In addition to the $6 billion earmarked for the expansion of broadband Internet access, “so businesses in rural and other underserved areas can link up to the global economy,” another $10 billion is included for science facilities, research, and instrumentation, as well as billions more for education.

“To enable more children to learn in 21st century classrooms, labs, and libraries to help our kids compete with any worker in the world,” the Democrats’ package allocates (among other things) $14 billion to a new School Modernization and Repair Program and $1 billion to the Education Technology program, “for 21st century classrooms, including computer and science labs and teacher technology training.”

$25 billion will go to states for other high-priority needs, such as public safety and other critical services, which may include education, and $6 billion is set aside for higher education modernization—all of which could include Wi-Fi or WiMAX components.

In the health care arena, “To save not only jobs, but money and lives,” funds will be allocated to “update and computerize our healthcare system to cut red tape, prevent medical mistakes, and help reduce healthcare costs by billions of dollars each year.” To that end, $20 billion is in the bill for health information technology to prevent medical mistakes, provide better care to patients and introduce cost-saving efficiencies.

Billions more dollars may be available for spending on wireless technologies in other areas, including $276 million budgeted to upgrade and modernize information technology platforms for the State Department “to meet security requirements post-9/11” and $350 million for “economic development assistance and industrial technology services.”

$650 million is also allocated to continue the coupon program to enable American households to convert from analog television transmission to digital transmission.

President-elect Obama spent today, not in Washington where he will be inaugurated on Tuesday, but in Ohio, where he toured a factory and pitched his alternative energy plans and the new spending bill.

On Wednesday, House committees will begin the work of sorting out the details of the bill, which some are speculating could reach $1 trillion by the time it reaches President Obama’s desk in mid-February. 

Naomi Graychase is Managing Editor at Wi-Fi Planet. She covers Wi-Fi-related news from her office in Western Massachusetts.

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