IT wheelbarrows ready for shovel-ready projects
So how exactly do you spend $787 billion? Google has a few ideas, as do Microsoft, IBM and dozens of other technology companies looking to help federal, state and local agencies put the stimulus package to work.
Directly or indirectly, the information technology sector expects to get a big boost from stimulus spending. Broadband communications is an obvious play, but technology firms also stand to gain from new investments in other sectors, such as education, health care and energy.
Eric Lundquist, a blogger for Computer World, points out that the stimulus plan has put the federal government in a whole new light as far as IT companies are concerned.
Until now, despite its big IT budget, the government has been “so fragmented and rooted in the past” that many companies had come to think of it “as a rich, but not particularly adept, uncle,” Lundquist writes. Now everything has changed. Anyone with that much money to hand out “is sure to be at the top of the technology vendors party list.”
According to the Wall Street Journal, the biggest companies were in on the action even as the bill was taking shape, helping educate lawmakers about key technology-related initiatives.
For example, Microsoft and other companies did their best to answer concerns about the privacy and security of digital health records, according to the Journal. And Google teamed with GE and others to champion an initiative to modernize the electrical grid.
The grid, of course, is key to Google's vision of cloud computing, in which organizations essentially outsource their technology infrastructure to service providers — like Google, for example — without worrying about where those companies are located. Those companies need reliable power and lots of it.
The grid is also important to President Barack Obama's plan to make high-speed networking available to everyone. That point is not lost on IBM. The New York Times reports that Big Blue is making a case for delivering broadband services via existing power lines, rather than requiring rural communities to lay new cable. The company already has signed up several customers.
“These deployments have been subsidized by low-interest loans from the Rural Development Program of the Department of Agriculture, which is going to get a big chunk of new money for loans and grants from the stimulus bill that was just signed,” according to the Times' Saul Hansell.
Satellite-based service providers are angling for business in the same rural areas. They see satellite as the best option for regions where landline networks are not reliable or simply not available. The Federal Times reports that those firms were relieved when lawmakers removed bandwidth requirements from the bill that would have favored landline services, such as digital subscriber lines and fiber optics.
But wait: How exactly does providing high-speed access to the nooks and crannies of rural America translate into an economic stimulus? That is what some critics are asking.
“Because Internet access is already widespread and still being expanded even in a shrinking economy, injecting more money for broadband could simply equate to giving more coffee to someone who's already downed three cups,” writes BusinessWeek's Peter Svensson.
Even scam artists are getting in on the action. Alexander Wolfe, a blogger for Information Week, reports that on Feb. 14, even before the bill had passed the Senate, he had received an e-mail from the “Internal Revenue Service,” encouraging him to submit his economic stimulus payment form online. “What am I, a failed bank?"
Facebook caused a stir when it recently changed its terms of service to specify that it retains rights to content you put there forever. Until the change, the social-networking site specified that its license to use your content expires when you delete the content.
After a rapid and escalating chorus of protest, Facebook reversed the change and reverted to the old terms, but with a note saying it plans to revisit the question soon and more changes are coming.
For government users and aspiring politicians, the prospect might be worth thinking about. Do you really want that picture of you rolling a smoke bomb into the ladies’ room of your college dorm resurfacing just as you’re about to get appointed to an agency administrator position?