Obama Vows Broadband Expansion in Recovery Plan


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.