The economic stimulus bill passed in the Senate today. Reductions in the bill’s size included trimming the amount earmarked for broadband from a proposed $9 billion to $7.5 billion. This is still off from the House version, which provides $6 billion for broadband.

Whether the legislation will boost the economy remains to be seen. However, what it already has stimulated is debate about its merit and, in some circles, discussion about the federal government’s foray into broadband policy.

C-SPAN communicators

In response to those expressing disappointment that the proposed dollars for broadband are not greater, Sharon Gillett, commissioner, Massachusetts Department of Telecommunications and Cable, said while more is better, she is focusing on the positive: that both numbers are followed by nine zeros.

Her fellow panelist on this week’s edition of C-SPAN’s "The Communicators," Joanne Hovis, board member, National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors, agreed. "The dollar amount could be higher or lower, but (we) are satisfied with the statement," she said. "It establishes a key principle and puts the government’s money where its mouth is."

If the national legislation is enacted, Hovis predicted there will be an "immediate" impact in terms of creating jobs, particularly where fiber-optic cable is laid. Analysis indicates that if a mid-sized city were to receive a stimulus grant, there could be 1,200 jobs created for construction within the first three years and 400 jobs for upkeep after the initial buildout is completed.

"That’s just for the physical layer," she said, noting there also would be jobs added by the service provider and by the advantages businesses would gain by having access to fiber.

In addition, broadband provides societal benefits like advances for healthcare, education and telecommuting, but the private sector doesn’t calculate these things when considering investment in underserved communities, Gillett said. "When the government puts money into the picture, (you) can take those returns into account in the cost benefit calculator."

NCTA and Free Press letter

Last Thursday, NCTA President and CEO Kyle McSlarrow and Free Press Policy Director Ben Scott weighed in on behalf of the proposed broadband funding in a joint letter to Senate leaders. The Free Press is an advocacy group that positions itself against "Big Media."

The letter supported granting the National Telecommunications and Information Administration oversight of the proposed broadband funding, but suggested targeting funds for areas without broadband service and making private broadband providers eligible for direct funding. (To download a copy of the letter, click here. To hear more from McSlarrow in a video blog, click here.)

– Monta Monaco Hernon

Read more news and analysis on Communications Technology‘s Web site at

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