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Obama Puts Focus On Broadband In Speech

By: John Eggerton, Broadcasting & Cable

As promised, President-elect Barack Obama has made rolling out broadband one of the centerpieces in his economic recovery plan.

In a speech at George Mason University in Virginia suburbs of DC, Obama outlined the plan, saying that it included "Expanding broadband across America, so that a small business in a rural town can connect and compete with their counterparts anywhere in the world."

He telegraphed that plank in a weekly radio address early last month, and various communications constituencies have been weighing in with their recommendations on how to achieve that universal broadband rollout after a meeting with Obama transition team leaders last month.

President-elect Obama said the overall economic recovery plan could create 3 million jobs, mostly in the private sector.

Obama said part of the plan would also be "reforming a weak and outdated regulatory system." Reforms for the FCC was another subject of that transition team meeting.

Obama said he wanted to pass the recovery plan within the next few weeks, saying he would work day, nights and weekends. He called on Congress to work with him.

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.


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