Before funds can be dolled out the FCC must offer guidelines and definitions of underserved areas

The U.S. broadband infrastructure is significantly lacking in many areas of the country. The U.S. ranks far below many other countries in broadband speeds and availability. Part of the massive stimulus package President Obama approved was $7.2 billion in funds to expand broadband access across the country.

Obama approved the funds earmarked for broadband expansion through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and urged agencies involved in the plan to put the funds to use as soon as possible. At this point, the FCC still has to set the parameters that will be used to determine how the funds are allocated.

The FCC must define what constitutes an underserved area and draft the guidelines for what types of programs will be funded. Any spending of the stimulus funds require a waiting period for public input. InformationWeek reports that the FCC, National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), and Agriculture Department issued notices seeking public input until April 13 and held hearings relating the use of stimulus funds. According to the organizations as of April 3, about 3,000 people had responded.

The Department of Agriculture's Rural Utilities Service will be offering $2.5 billion in stimulus funds that are expected to be available to a wider range of groups than the funds being offered through other groups.

Former HP CEO and chair of the Technology Policy Institute Carly Fiorina said, "We know from experience that simply throwing money at technology is not a solution. We should think about spending it wisely and making sure we actually achieve the goal, which is that we have 21st century infrastructure."

Fiorina says that it is encouraging that Congress is spending substantial amounts of money on a broadband infrastructure. The FCC has given every indication that it is stressing the importance of allowing competition and the need for carriers to manage traffic neutrally regardless of the content or content source.

Despite the FCC's insistence on neutrality for networks created with stimulus finds, major telecom carriers like AT&T say that it may not participate in the stimulus find programs because of the neutrality provisions.

Rumors persist that Verizon will not participate in the broadband program, but a spokesman says the company has made no firm decisions at this time.

The spokesman told InformationWeek, "Whether we participate in a specific government program or not, our intent is to do our part, and to work cooperatively with governments, nonprofits, and others to ensure that next-generation ultrafast and mobile broadband become ubiquitous."

Verizon says that even if it and other large telecommunications firms don’t participate directly in the stimulus fund programs, it could still benefit from funds if asked by smaller providers to lay the actual cable networks.

Part of the problem deciding what areas qualify for stimulus finds is that the way broadband access is reported by some providers is far from accurate. Some providers list broadband as being available even if only one person has broadband access in an entire zip code. To address this dilemma NTIA will be drafting a broadband map that shows what parts of the country lack broadband and which parts lack the infrastructure for broadband.

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