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Biden to unveil $2 billion in broadband grants

Vice President Biden announcing $2 billion in broadband grants, part of the Obama administration's plan for universal broadband access and to stimulate the economy.

Vice President Joe Biden
Vice President Joe Biden

Vice President Joe Biden on Thursday is scheduled to announce $2 billion in grants that will be used to build broadband networks in underserved communities.

The funding, which is part of the $7.2 billion that was set aside for broadband in President Obama's $787 billion economic recovery deal earlier this year, will start with an initial $182 million investment in 18 broadband projects in 17 states. Biden is announcing the stimulus grants in Dawsonville, Ga.

The money is specifically meant to expand affordable broadband access to underserved areas of the U.S. Officials would not name which companies will be getting the grants that were announced on Thursday.

From BlackBerry smartphones to broadband Internet connections, President Obama understands that technology is an important economic and educational driver. High speed Internet access is seen as the cornerstone of the president's technology agenda, and he has emphasized the need for getting affordable broadband access to every American.

"The new broadband access will help underserved and often hard-hit communities overcome the distance and technology barrier by expanding connectivity between educational institutions, enabling remote medical consultations, and attracting new businesses as well as the jobs that come with them," the White House said in a statement.

The Federal Communications Commission is currently working on developing a national broadband plan that will provide a road map for achieving the goal of getting every American affordable access to high-speed Internet. A full report on the plan is due to Congress in mid-February.

Blair Levin, who is heading up the task force developing the national broadband plan for the FCC, has estimated that it could take as much as $20 billion to $350 billion to achieve the ultimate goal of ubiquitous broadband access. But he has acknowledged publicly on several occasions that the bulk of the investment will come from the private sector.

"The private sector is essential to this effort," Levin said. "Government spending will be limited. And competition is the best way to drive innovation. "

Still, at a meeting at the FCC on Wednesday, he said government funding will be necessary in places where the private sector is unable to find a viable business case. And he has proposed overhauling the $7 billion-a-year Universal Service Fund, which provides telephone access to rural communities, as one way to help fund such projects.

"Where funding is limited and where it's difficult to make a business case and where we don't want to go through the process of new legislation, there are ways to better utilize existing assets," he said.

But the USF alone will not be enough. And given that it will likely take years to expand the program, grants and government funding pumped into the system now will at least get the ball rolling on new deployments.