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Klobuchar Pushes 'Underserved' Broadband Grants

Minnesota Democratic Senator and Commerce Committee member Amy Klobuchar put in a plug Friday for using the broadband funding in the ecomomic stimulus package for underserved, not just unserved, population.

Likening the Internet to "our Eisenhower highway system of the 1950's," Klobuchar said that "we need to make sure that we don't just focus on unserved areas but also focus on underserved areas."

She said that was because even in areas where Internet is available in her state, it may be "incredibly slow or incredibly expensive because they have to have satellite."

By contrast, the cable industry wants the stimulus spending--$6 billion in the just-passed House package, $9 billion in the Senate version yet to be passed--to focus on unserved areas, rather than potentially funding competitors to cable in the 92% of the country cable broadband already reaches.

The House version also explicitly includes funding for satellite-delivered broadband.

There was much debate in the House Commerce Committee over whether/how much money should go to unserved vs. underserved, and how the National Telecommunications & Information Administration/USDA/FCC were going to determine who got the money.

Currently the House version splits the money up between NTIA and the Department of Agriculture, while the Senate version gives it all to NTIA and says half must be used for rural areas.

The Senate bill has clear open access conditions on the grant money, which Klobuchar says is a "very good thing." But she also said that Congress would not be micromanaging the details of how the grant program is designed because, as part of the larger overall stimulus package, the idea is this bill needs to to pass quickly.

Asked whether a larger cable operator, as well as a smaller, rural provider, should get access to the grant money, she said that she was "personally biased in terms of seeing that our small, rural providers have been able to do a better job with the Internet in Minnesota," and that "those things will be worked out."

Klobuchar said that, wearing her hard hat as a member of the Environmentand Public Works Committee working on a transportation bill, she is looking at how they can provide incentives for "when they are digging up roads to allow cable and [other] Internet providers to lay their lines at the same time to save money."

She said she has talked to Virginia Senator Mark Warner and that they would be working together on that issue.