Obama Vows Broadband Expansion in Recovery Plan
By John Eggerton -- Broadcasting & Cable, 12/7/2008 1:11:00 PM
President-elect Barack Obama made ubiquitous Internet access a key part of the economic recovery plan he outlined for "Wall Street and Main Street" in his radio/Web address Saturday.
Saying the country needs action "now," he echoed criticisms leveled often by legislators at the pace of broadband roll-out.
In addition to pledging to make public buildings more energy efficient and rebuilding physical infrastructure, he said "we'll also renew our Information Superhighway."
While he promised not to just throw money at any of the problems, he said that "it is unacceptable that the United States ranks 15th in the world in broadband adoption.
"Here, in the country that invented the internet, every child should have the chance to get online, and they’ll get that chance when I’m President," he said, "because that’s how we’ll strengthen America’s competitiveness in the world."
The president-elect said he would work with Congress to get it to pass an economic recovery plan immediately.
Most industry players concede that there needs to be greater stimulus for broadband rollout, but there are disagreements over how relevant the rankings are given that some of the leading countries are smaller and easier to wire. They also disagree on the best way to close the gap.
Network operators also argue that network neutrality legislation, which the president-elect also supports, could discourage broadband investment and the ubiquitous roll-outs Obama seeks.
One proposal the FCC has been considering is to reform the government-run, telecommunications company-funded subsidy of rural telecommunications to underserved communities--the Universal Service Fund--to help fund the broadband rollout.
FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has also proposed creating a baseline free Internet service as part of an upcoming auction a national wireless spectrum license, and recently agreed to allow unlicensed devices like laptops to share broadcast spectrum, in part to boost broadband penetration. The spectrum is beachfront property because it travels easily through walls and other obstructions.
In addition, both Congress and the FCC have taken steps to improve collection of broadband data, including upping the definition of high-speed access and tightening the definition of what qualifies as access. For example, the FCC used to define as having broadband any Zip Code with even one subscriber.
Here are some add''l comments in favor of Obama''s identification of broadband as a policy priority (and some counter arguments to the first commenter above) -
1) The Internet has become a modern necessity. It is a medium through which everything - from commerce to personal communications to entertainment to information access and more - is conducted. If equality is a basic premise of America, then the Internet should be equally available for all of these purposes.
2) Publicly-funded broadband has not been widely successful because they threaten the viability of commercial ISPs. Conversely, commercial ISPs don''t always act in the public interest. Regulatory oversight has the potential to level the playing field and remove unfair advantages for either, and that would be a good thing.
3) In many European and Asian countries, multiple providers compete for the same consumers. In France, about seven major broadband ISPs, for example, including the Telcos that are incumbent in other countries, compete in the broadband and pay TV (IPTV) arenas because the regulators (France and the European Union) regulate to keep the markets open to all competitors.
4) (In contrast,) Telcos in the US have lobbied (and succeeded in getting) regulators to let them snuff out local competition and close the Internet to anyone who can''t pay. (see UNE-P) This is against the public interest.
5) There can be a balance between the Internet as a public utility, and the Telcos/Cablecos'' insistance that they lack sufficient bandwidth (and therefore throttle P2P traffic and kick high-bandwidth users off their networks). (See Net Neutrality). The solution is not black-and-white and requires efforts between regulators and industry.
6) The US government has regulated for telecom oversight and equality of access in the past. See Telecommunications Act of 1934, Universal Service, the FCC, etc. If we didn''t have these things, only rich urban dwellers and corporations would have telephones today.
7) The gov''t''s role should not be to be a "nanny." Instead, it should promote fair competition. This is a progressive concept that carries over to many other things - even womens'' choice! "Letting the market decide" is a dishonest front for "let commercial interests dominate." See (1) above
Steve Hawley - 12/8/2008 3:12:00 PM EST
I cannot say that I support Obama's plan for making internet access such a "right". It goes into people's own discretion of whether or not they want their kids exposed to it or not, and it undermines companies control of the internet. It seems that internet providers will be getting the shaft from this, but maybe I am seeing this the wrong way... I think the best thing as far as internet access is making it easier to get as a service in general. www.clear.com/?utm_source=bc This new internet is being started in Portland that makes home speed internet available anywhere in the city... should that be successful, it would work across the country. The idea that people who can't afford internet, etc, is crazy. If they can't afford that, do they even have a need for the internet (i.e. do they have computers?)
Erin Christine - 12/8/2008 2:20:00 PM EST
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