Free Press Pushing Congress to Preserve Broadband Grants in Stimulus

Letter to both houses offers support for bills, hopes for tax breaks

Free Press Tuesday joined those pushing Congress to preserve broadband grants and tax breaks in the economic stimulus package, which has passed the House and Senate in different forms. The group says it supports the thrust of both bills, but each could use some tweaking.

Free Press, in a letter from Policy Director Ben Scott to Senators and Representatives, said it preferred the Senate version's $7 billion for broadband (vs. $6 billion in the House version).

It gave a shout out to the openness and nondiscrimination provisions attached to the rollout in both bills.

It also backs the Senate version's oversight mechanism for the program, which places it with NTIA, rather than dividing it up between NTIA and the Department of Agriculture, as the House version does.

In both versions, the FCC is charged with coming up with how to define the underserved areas in line for some of the money.

The Senate version does not have access speed benchmarks, which makes it more attractive to cable operators concerned that speed could favor telcos. Free Press prefers the speed requirements in the House bill, saying they will "real capital investment in projects that would not have occurred otherwise."

By Contrast, it opposes the Senate version's lack of limits on tax credits, saying that could lead to the funding of broadband projects already in progress and that would have been built without the stimulus funds. "Using tax credits to subsidize private investment that would have occurred even in the absence of public support is not good stimulus policy," it said.