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Congress Wants Neutrality On Publicly Funded Broadband

New networks built with stimulus funds will likely have to comply with neutrality standards, under rules proposed by the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate.

The House's American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan passed Wednesday. It requires high speed and openness on networks built with taxpayer money. The version from the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee also requires neutral network management and proposes to spend $9 billion on expanding broadband access. That version also offers tax incentives for ISPs that provide 5-Mbps/1-Mbps in underserved areas and faster speeds of 100-Mbps/20-Mbps to areas they already serve.

Advocacy groups praised the measures. Ben Scott, policy director of Free Press, said the legislation shows that policymakers recognize "the crucial role broadband will play in revitalizing our economy."

"This is a down payment on our digital future," he said in a statement. "We're encouraged that both the House and Senate bills acknowledge that we simply cannot afford to hand over billions of taxpayer funds with no strings attached. The government is an investor, not a charity. To maximize stimulus dollars, Congress must ensure that these networks are open, fast, competitive, and built to last."

The plans call for incoming Federal Communications Commission chairman Julius Genachowski to define the terms of network neutrality.

Of the $819 billion being spent to shore up the economy, the House set aside $6 billion to expand broadband.

Tens of billions of dollars for other projects are likely to benefit the tech sector as well, since IT and data storage are woven into infrastructure projects like the nation's transportation system and energy grids and school modernization, which account for another $113 billion in spending -- not to mention spending on electronic health records.