Democratic lawmakers are calling for $80 billion in federal funds to be set aside to beef up the nation's Internet services, develop renewable energy sources and computerize health care records. 

The investment would be part of the $825 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Bill of 2009 [pdf] (which the House is expected to vote on the week of Jan. 26). The money spent on new technology is expected to "increase economic efficiency by spurring technological advances in science and health" via $54 billion to bolster production of energy from renewable sources, $20 billion to computerize health care records and $6 billion to provide broadband Internet to regions where it's lacking.

Of the $54 billion earmarked to help the U.S. further embrace green energy, $32 billion would go toward transforming the nation's energy transmission, distribution, and production systems by allowing for a "smarter" and better grid and focusing investment in renewable technology.

A "smart grid" is an approach to operating the nation's electricity transmission and distribution system using advanced digital technology to save energy and cost, and to allow demand response, use of storage technologies (including plug-in hybrid batteries), integration of dispersed renewable and distributed generators, enhanced reliability and quicker repair of outages, and improved power quality.

Another $16 billion of the government's investment in green would be used to repair public housing and make key energy efficiency retrofits, with the remaining $6 billion being spent to weatherize "modest-income" homes, according to the House Appropriations Committee's summary of the bill [pdf].

The proposed legislation also calls for monies to be invested in a variety of other tech programs, including $650 million (that would be available through Sept. 30) to provide $40 coupons to American households to subsidize the cost of converter boxes (which generally cost between $50 and $70) that would enable them to continue to use their old TV sets when stations switch from analog to digital TV transmission.

Senate Republicans on Friday blocked a bill that would have delayed next month's nationwide shutdown of analog TV signals until June 12, but Democrats vowed to bring the measure back for a vote next week, the Associated Press reported. President-elect Barack Obama, set to be sworn in Tuesday, had asked lawmakers to postpone the Feb. 17 transition largely because the federal program that subsidizes converter boxes for those viewers hit a $1.34 billion funding limit this month. (People with digital TVs or who subscribe to satellite or digital cable service are already prepared for the transition.)

"Over 2 million Americans are waiting to receive a coupon to help them offset the cost of equipment that will help them manage the transition," Sen. John Rockefeller, D-W.Va., incoming chairman of the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, said in a statement calling for a delay in the switchover. "Millions more don't have the proper information they need."

Image: ©; Darko Novakovic