Lobbyists, telecommunications industry officials, and others crowded into a public meeting on March 10 to influence the government’s $7.2 billion grant program for high-speed internet expansion, Reuters reports. The meeting at the U.S. Commerce Department marked the first step in deciding which companies will benefit from broadband funding included in the Obama administration’s economic stimulus program. The funding aims to encourage broadband networks to connect rural and other unserved areas to the internet. "I think it’s safe to say that we are not as far ahead in this technology as we need to be," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, whose department will give out as much as $2.8 billion of the funds, told the meeting. Officials asked the telecom industry, experts, and other interested groups to recommend what role current retail prices should play in the program and to suggest what criteria the government should set for awarding the money. Small to mid-sized carriers with inroads in rural areas are the most likely to seek the funds, Wall Street analysts said; states and local governments also can apply…

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