Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee, has introduced legislation that would boost broadband deployment via financial incentives like tax credits and create new government offices and panels to vet government investments in a variety of broadband programs.
The Connecting America Act creates a tax credit of limited duration--it is meant to stimulate investment over the next five years and put the emphasis on the private sector, rather than government, in getting broadband to remaining "unserved" areas.
A source said the bill has yet to collect any co-sponsors.
The bill would also create a "technology-neutral" bond program that would allow communities, "rather than federal bureaucrats," to raise funds for construction and tailor the resulting infrastructure to their own needs.
The incentives would go to broadband providers and would be tied to minimum speeds of 50 megabits per second downstream for upgrades of existing service, or extension of service to unserved areas with at least 10 megabits downstream. The tax credit would be retroactive to a nine-month period ending with the date of the law's enactment.
The NTIA and Department of Agriculture's Rural Utilities Service is currently accepting bids for grants and loans for broadband deployment and education. In announcing the bill, Hutchison said: "This taxpayer investment must be maximized by directing grants to unserved areas and focusing on community access points. We must approach broadband deployment in a more thoughtful and comprehensive way in the future, and start by meaningfully engaging the investment and expertise of the private sector."
The bill would also create an Office of National Broadband Strategy within the Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA) to provide technical assistance to anyone applying for funds under a variety of programs, including the $7.2 billion being handed out by NTIA and the Rural Utilities Service under the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) of the president's economic stimulus package.
That assistance would include advice and help in filling out the forms. The office would get $10 million over the next five years to carry out that task.
Within that office, the bill would establish an advisory panel on deployment and adoption made up of representatives of business, public interest groups and government agencies. The panel would review the effectiveness of those government investments and whether it is feasible to create a single application process for all the relevant federal broadband programs.