Last week the Obama administration managed to get its stimulus plan (The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) passed through the circus that is Congress and a part of that is the $7.2 billion allocated for increasing broadband coverage. It is still early in the game and at this point no procedures or methods have been set up for how this is to be spent, and of course politics and bottom lines will figure into whatever decisions will be reached.
The language in the legislation specifically mentions expanding broadband to rural areas:
"The purposes of the program are to (1) provide access to broadband service to consumers residing in underserved areas of the United States; (2) provide improved access to broadband service to consumers residing in underserved areas of the United States."
Two agencies will split the funds. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Utilities Service. The NTIA will receive $4.7 billion and the USDA $2.5 billion. And as this article in PCWorld points out that provides some hint as to how these funds will be used when it comes to essentially providing incentives for broadband providers to reach out to the rural areas of the US. It is no secret that the US lags far behind other developed countries when it comes to broadband access, and I’m hoping that that a long term vision will prevail over short term gains when it comes to working this through.
Keep American history in mind. It took government intervention (the Rural Electrification Act of 1936 ) to get past the profit motive to get electricity to rural areas.