WASHINGTON, February 13, 2009 – Broadband service providers can breathe a sigh of relief as the economic stimulus package, with the provisions for high-speed internet services intact, headed to the President's desk late Friday night after a marathon day of voting by lawmakers.
The $787 billion spending measure passed the House on a 246-183 vote early Friday afternoon.
House Democrats rejoiced despite not being able to attract a single Republican vote. The stimulus legislation will be "transformational" to the economy, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. said at a press conference following the vote. Democrats should feel a "sense of satisfaction" at the cooperation required to pass the bill, she said. The bill represents an effort to follow through on President Obama's promise of change, she said, and would lead to "swift, bold action."
The stimulus legislation is the largest economic relief measure in history, Pelosi said. Invoking the first 100 days of John Kennedy's presidency, Pelosi noted that "in a few short weeks," Obama had successfully worked with Congressional leaders to pass a major bill "faster than any other President."
In their opposition, House Republicans indicated they want to go down the "same old path," Pelosi said. But the Speaker was resolute on following through with the President's agenda: "We will not turn back." Republicans certainly "can't say that this a do-nothing congress," quipped Rep. David Obey, D-Wis.
House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio said the 1,000 page bill consisted only of "spending, spending, and more spending." Americans "deserve better," he said, "and we think we have a better idea."
The Senate also approved the bill, 60-38, after more than five hours, possibly the longest vote in the chamber's history, though the Senate historian said that no sources were available to confirm any such record. The roll call opened at 5:30pm Friday, and was held open by an agreement between Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. so that Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, could return from his mother's funeral to cast his vote.
Because Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., remains at home undergoing cancer treatment, and Ohio senior senator George Voinovich, a Republican, could not be persuaded to switch his vote as a courtesy to his colleague, Brown's "aye" vote was necessary to meet the 60 vote threshold demanded by Senate rules.
President Obama ordered a military plane dispatched to retrieve the lawmaker from his Cleveland home. Brown arrived in the Senate chamber at 10:45pm, and after a brief conversation with Reid, signaled for the clerk to record his vote at 10:47pm. The bill will be sent to the White House, where President Obama is expected to sign it during a Monday ceremony.
The portions of the bill dealing with broadband services were met with almost universal acclaim by industry leaders. The broadband measures "will fuel our nation's investment in technology to map, modernize and expand our broadband infrastructure," said NCTA president Kyle McSlarrow.
Expanded broadband service will " drive our economic recovery with new jobs, better educational opportunities, and more efficient access to health care," McSlarrow said, adding that he looks forward " to working with policy makers at all levels."
While language specifically targeting wireless services was removed in conference, John Taylor, public affairs manager for Sprint Nextel Corporation said the company was "very encouraged" by the final version of the bill. Taylor called the inclusion of broadband in the stimulus the best way to create "high-tech, high-wage jobs -- the best way to grow the economy."
Taylor said Sprint is pleased that the bill makes no distinction between wireless and wired broadband services. The "technologically neutral" language of the measure means that companies that provide wireless broadband services can compete for grants.
Wireless broadband has greater potential, Taylor said. Because wireless broadband is cheaper to deploy, Taylor argued that companies like Sprint were "better positioned" to reach unserved and underserved areas.
Taylor said he couldn't offer any comment on the open access provisions in the bill, which apply the FCC's 2005 Internet Policy Statement as the minimum standard grantees must apply when building out their networks. Sprint Nextel would reserve judgment until the NTIA and FCC completed rulemaking procedures for the grant program. "The devil is in the details," he said.