Friday, January 30, 2009

Obama, Congress Pack Net Neutrality, Broadband Into Stimulus

Original Article - Taily Tech

House Democrats and the President push stimulus bill which contains provisions for the expansion of broadband networks and the preservation of net neutrality

Barack Obama and House Democrats talked big when it came to broadband expansion and net neutrality. Apparently, they made good on their promises and packaged net neutrality and broadband expansion provisions into an $819B USD emergency stimulus package.

On Wednesday, House Democrats approved the $819B USD bill, which includes a $40B USD boost to certain areas of the tech sector. The bill offers $6B USD to help expand broadband to areas it does not currently reach and $20B USD to help America bring its health care records online, which should help to greatly cut health care costs.

The bill also includes $11B USD to revamp the nation's electrical grid which is very dilapidated throughout much of the country, having been built in the 1960s, 1950s, or even earlier. The bill will also pump $2B USD into energy efficiency and renewable energy research.

The bill was virtually split on party lines, passing 244-188. Not a single Republican voted to approve the bill. Republicans wanted to cut out the grants and loans for broadband, technology education, and scientific research expansion. They want to replace the bill with a slightly leaner one, with slightly more tax cuts, targeted across more income levels, including for those making over $200,000. The bill now awaits Senate approval.

The Senate is currently drafting its own bill, so technically two bills will go through the approval conference. The House and Senate leaders will meet at a special conference committee to iron out the differences between the two bills. They hope to have a finished piece of legislation submitted by mid-February for President Obama's signature.

Google's Eric Schmidt, Motorola's Greg Brown, IBM's Sam Palmisano, Micron Technology's Steve Appleton and Xerox's Anne Mulcahy were among the CEO's Barack Obama brought to the White House to discuss the bill and other matter. President Obama stated, "I know that there are some who are skeptical of the size and scale of this recovery plan. And I understand that skepticism, given some of the things that have happened in this town in the past."

The new bill is perhaps most significant as it represents the first major legislative victory for both net neutrality and open networks. Net neutrality, stymied under the Bush administration via threat of veto, is the concept that internet traffic, including P2P streams, should not be discriminated against or throttled. Open networking is the principal that network providers should not be allowed to discriminate against certain manufacturers or providers devices, if they have the capability to access the network. Those receiving funding to build networks under the bill will have to abide by these principles.

The bill also includes some of the internet speed mandates previously mentioned. Seventy five percent of the networks built must be fast enough to support video conferencing. While telecom comments are scarce, CTIA, the wireless carriers' principal trade group, did urge lawmakers to vote against the proposal which it called "vague, undefined and unnecessary", citing opposition of telecoms to the openness provisions.

Motorola's Brown however supports the bill, stating, "At the heart of this debate over the economy is the question [of] whether America will be the preferred destination for businesses to operate, entrepreneurs to start ventures, investors to make their financial bets and high-skilled workers to continue their careers. President Obama understands that our economic policy must be geared towards strengthening U.S. competitiveness for the long term."

The bill realizes many of the technology initiatives alluded to in President Obama's inaugural address. While avoiding passing painful regulations on existing networks, the bill offers a nice balance by simply ensuring that new networks are more open and data neutral.

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