The House Energy and Commerce Committee on Thursday approved a $6 billion broadband plan that would provide grants for those who build out high-speed Internet networks and require the government to maintain a public, online broadband inventory map.

The plan is part of an $825 billion overall economic stimulus package unveiled last week by the House Appropriations Committee.

"Broadband investments are important because they have a tremendous multiplier effect on our economy," Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said in a statement.

Under the plan, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) – the agency currently in charge of the DTV transition – would have two years to develop a map of broadband availability throughout the United States and post that data on a publicly available Web site.

NTIA would also be able to hand out grants to those willing to build out broadband service, wireless voice service, and advanced wireless broadband service. For wireless grants, 25 percent of the money will go toward voice services and 75 percent of the funds will be designated for advanced wireless broadband service.

To receive grant money, recipients building out broadband and wireless network must agree to open access standards. They must also adhere to the Federal Communications Commission's broadband policy statement, a set of rules that came under fire during last year's Comcast proceedings.

The NTIA will consult with the FCC on the broadband plan. The FCC will be charged with coming up with definitions for "wireless open access," "open access," and "underserved."

CTIA, a trade group that represents the wireless industry, expressed concern with the open access provisions.

"As you develop policies for recovery, we believe any broadband incentives should be technology neutral in order to encourage wireless providers to deploy next generation mobile and fixed broadband services to our consumers and businesses," CTIA president and chief executive Steve Largent, wrote in a January 15 letter to House and Senate leaders.

D.C.-based interest group Public Knowledge praised the two committees for the inclusion of the open access requirements.

"The forward-looking actions by these committees are the first steps to enacting President Obama's technology platform that will lead to putting Americans back to work, stimulating the economy and improving America's competitiveness," Gigi B. Sohn, president and co-founder of Public Knowledge, said in a statement.

The Computer & Communications Industry Association also championed the plan.

"This stimulus legislation can soon create jobs, and generate more online economic activity and opportunities for more Americans," said Ed Black, president and chief executive of CCIA. "The opportunity to participate in the digital economy via high speed connections to the open, public Internet is fundamental to shared prosperity and democracy."

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Broadband Goals

Barack Obama used his first weekly address as U.S. president to provide more details of his proposed US$825 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan that, among other things, will upgrade classrooms, invest in renewable energy and expand broadband Internet access.

Obama stated his intention to invest in these areas during the presidential debates in September and came back to the issue in a December address that he issued as president-elect, but over the weekend he added concrete goals to the plan.

"It's a plan that will save or create three to four million jobs over the next few years," he said adding that its more than a plan to boost short-term employment. "It's one that will invest in our most important priorities like energy and education; health care and a new infrastructure that are necessary to keep us strong and competitive in the 21st century."

Among the details, Obama said the plan will renovate and modernize 10,000 schools thus creating "state-of-the-art classrooms, libraries, and labs" for 5 million pupils. The plan also hopes to spur students on to careers in science by tripling the number of undergraduates and graduates studying in this area.

Renewable energy is also a focus. The plan will double energy-generating capacity over three years so that 6 million homes are powered by renewable means. He also plans to modernize the electricity grid and install 40 million "smart meters" in American homes.

The plan also aims to accelerate adoption of health IT systems.

"To lower health care cost, cut medical errors, and improve care, we'll computerize the nation's health record in five years, saving billions of dollars in health care costs and countless lives," he said.

But on one aspect of the recovery plan -- expanding broadband access -- he offered no concrete goals and a supporting document issued by the White House doesn't mention the word "broadband" once..

The broadband expansion is part of the infrastructure portion of the plan that will also invest in the road network, mass transit, ports and emergency communications system for law enforcement.

"It means expanding broadband access to millions of Americans, so business can compete on a level-playing field, wherever they're located," he said without offering any goals.

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WELLINGTON (Reuters) - Australia's largest phone company, Telstra Corp (TLS.AX), could face hefty regulation if the government goes through with a threat to bypass the company in building a $6.9 billion national broadband network.

Telstra has been shut out of the planning and, if the project is granted to a rival, it could see its network arm forcibly separated to provide a platform for the network.

Analysts say uncertainty over the ability of Telstra's rivals to build a network to span Australia's vast distances and inhospitable terrain to reach the government's target of 98 percent of the population, means Telstra must be involved.

"This requires parts of Telstra's network, and if they're not prepared to provide it willingly then it will have to be legislated," said Luke Sinclair, investment manager at Karara Capital.

Australia has slower and more expensive Internet than many developed countries, and the government has pledged A$4.7 billion to help build a national broadband network, with the successful bidder expected to roughly equal that amount.

But the project has been beset by political wrangling, descending into a face-off between the government and Telstra, which dominates the market and infrastructure.

The government panel reviewing proposals for the network on December 18 dumped Telstra's plan as it did not include smaller businesses, while accepting another five bids.

"This decision reveals fundamentally a growing level of frustration from the government with Telstra's very public demands and ultimatum for regulatory concessions," said JP Morgan analyst Laurent Horrut in a note to clients.

Telstra has sought assurances from the government it would not be forcibly broken up before submitting its bid. The government has responded by saying the network could be built without Telstra.

Telstra could still be selected, however, if Minister for Broadband Stephen Conroy, who will make the final decision, decides to ignore the panel's recommendation.

Of the five other bidders who registered interest, Telstra's main rival Optus, owned by Singapore Telecommunications Ltd (STEL.SI) and backed by a consortium of smaller players known as Terria, is seen as the most likely candidate.

While doubts persist whether anybody other than Telstra can muster the estimated A$5 billion needed on top of the government's contribution, a joint venture could be the solution.

"Even if you have one leading tenderer, let's say Terria, it would be possible for them to work with other players to get it built," said Paul Budde, an independent telecoms analyst.

Or the government may address how much it is willing to contribute to the project to support a less capable bidder, Karara Capital's Sinclair said.

Besides the Optus-Terria consortium, the other bidders are Canada's Axia Netmedia (AXX.TO) and a local consortium, Acacia. TransACT and the Tasmanian government have only submitted plans for their state or territory, not a national plan.

Credit rating agencies Standard & Poor's, Moody's and Fitch all maintained their Telstra ratings despite the government decision, with all three saying it was too soon to say what the impact would be on the company if it was left out. That is partly because the process could become mired in legal challenges, resulting in lengthy delays. Telstra has called the decision to exclude it from the bidding "legally questionable," and has reserved the right to challenge it.

Telstra shares, which fell almost a fifth to an 11-year low in the wake of the decision, have recovered some ground after the company said its earnings outlook would not be affected.

The shares are expected to survive relatively intact even if the government awards the contract to a rival firm, as it would take the winning bidder years to build the network, time in which Telstra could mount a competitive response.

Damage to Telstra's value would depend on whether it was forced to split -- a scenario that JP Morgan's Horrut said would remove A$1.32 from the stock's standalone valuation of A$4.73 a share. If Telstra is chosen to build the network, however, that valuation would increase by $0.41 a share, Horrut said.

Telstra is opposed to splitting off its network business from its retail arm, saying that would destroy shareholder value, citing similar regulation imposed on Britain's BT Group (BT.L) and Telecom Corp of New Zealand (TEL.NZ) as a precedent.

"One of the conclusions from the last week is that some of the good outcomes the market had been looking for are now a lot less likely," Karara Capital's Sinclair said.

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You’ve finally gone high speed with a cable modem or DSL and you love the speed. However, are you taking the right precautions to keep your computer safe? High speed broadband is a blessing. Remember the days when you could go make yourself a snack and go to the bathroom while you’re computer downloaded one page? That is no longer true when you have broadband service. Dial-up is limited by the bandwidth of phone lines and web content is getting larger and larger. The bandwidth for dial-up is not usually large enough to send large content file pages in a timely manner. There is new technology that allows you to speed up your dial-up connection. Both NetZero and EarthLink offer high-speed dial-up that are said to be five times faster than traditional service.

You will also see advertised on the Internet, special programs to boost speed. As always with any program that you download from the Internet, you need to know the site you are on is secure. You don’t want to add Spyware or adware while adding the program to speed up your connection.

I found as an early user of new cable Internet service that it was so much faster I was amazed at how fast my pages loaded. I was one of the first in the city to receive this new service. As more and more users jumped on the high-speed bandwagon, I noticed a slow down to my Internet service. The cable company has fixed that performance issue by adding new channels and splitting the users. This allows the speed, which we can easily get used to and like.

How secure is broadband service? Broadband does have its advantages but there are also some dangers involved as well. First, when you are using dial-up, you are more than likely shutting your computer down when you are done surfing or working on the Internet. With your computer shut down, it won’t allow hackers or Spyware to get into your system. With broadband, their boast is “you are always connected.” I know this to be true; because when I turn my computer on in the morning, it stays on until I shut it down for the night.

While this is convenient, it also poses a danger by leaving your computer exposed to the work of hackers and Spyware all that time. With your computer “always on”, an important fact to remember is the road to the Internet is a two-way road and Spyware and hackers can be having a field day with your computer.

One such attack is called “denial of service” and has hit prominent sites like Excite at Home, eBay, and Yahoo. The Undernet, which supports the IRC chat network, has also been hit with this attack. Many experts warn that a particular worm can potentially cripple the Internet and could already have the worms seeded into many computers. They are afraid that these worms will be activated all at once and cause a massive failure of many Internet sites.

Hackers can get into computers that are serviced by these high-speed DSL and cable modem connections and are able to get personal information like credit card and bank account details. Many companies provide the first step in stopping these intruders by disabling the file-sharing program that is on the Windows operating system of their customer’s computers. This help prevents other users from seeing inside your computer.

Installing a firewall is another simple and inexpensive precaution. A firewall is just what it says. It builds a wall around your computer to keep hackers and Spyware from getting your personal information. Experts say that once your computer is compromised, sometimes the only cure is to reformat the hard drive. This is something that is time-consuming and frustrating and should be done only as a last resort.

Security issues with broadband connection will continue to grow as many more households start connecting with high-speed connectors. According to Nielsen/Net Ratings, broadband users increased by 134 percent in the past year. They report that nearly 29 million users are connected to a broadband connection in the year 2004. It’s mind boggling to think how many more have been added since then.

Enjoy your broadband speed and convenience, but prepare to take the right precautions to keep your computer safe.

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These days there are a lot of people using a Broadband Internet connection to get online. As a consumer you can get Broadband through use of DSL, which is normally supplied by a phone company, or you can get a connection with a cable Internet Company, providing that there is one in your area. Generally speaking broadband will grant you a relatively fast connection which will be a must if you are thinking of downloading and viewing/listening to videos and music.

But as we all know technology isn’t perfect and sometimes you may experience a painfully slow connection even with Broadband. If you are or have experienced this you should know that there could be lots of reasons to why it is happening to you; your internet provider may be having some problems or your computer may have become victim to viruses and spyware. Your fist step towards sorting the problem should be to run a broadband speed test on your connection. Why, because this will help you determine whether the problem is on your end or your providers.

If you call your Internet provider, they will most likely be able to run a broadband speed test on your computer while you wait. It shouldn’t take a moment, and they can tell you rather quickly if the problem is on their end or yours. They may also have a website that you can go to, that is of cause if you can still get online, and it will run the broadband speed test for you. You will see your results displayed right there on your computer screen. If your internet provider doesn’t provide this service, then don’t worry there are plenty of web sites out there that will. Just do a google search for “speed test” and you’re find plenty of sites.

If you have run the speed test and found nothing wrong on their end, your connection might be off at your end. It may just be a simple case of you having to reset your modem or router; I have found this to work most of the time. The last time I found my service to be very slow; it was because the memory on my modem had been full. To be honest I don’t really know for sure what kind of data this collects or uses, but as soon as the memory had been emptied, my connection was back to normal.

If there is no problem what so ever on your end, no trouble on your providers end, and the broadband speed test came back fine, there is most likely something else wrong with your computer. In this case often one of the main culprits are spyware, malware or of cause viruses. Sometimes very bad spyware can make it easier for viruses to get in to your system and then they will use up so much of your computer memory that it will make your broadband Internet run like a dial-up or even worse.

If you have done all of this and still have no idea what is causing the problem, your last step would be to have your computer looked over by a professional for any hardware problems. Most of the problems you will encounter with your computer will be no doubt software related; hardware problems take up a very small proportion of computer problems.

Once your computer is up and running again, it’s always a good idea to run a broadband speed test every now and then so you can be certain that everything is running fine, and keep your computer protected from viruses, spyware and alike.

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