News

Obama Adviser Lowers Broadband Expectations

1/16/2009 7:00 PM Eastern

An Obama transition adviser on communications policy says the economic stimulus package will not be the vehicle for addressing all of the new administration’s concerns about the availability of high-speed Internet access nationally.

“The broadband piece of the Obama agenda is not going to be done solely in the economic recovery package,” said Blair Levin, a member of Obama’s Technology, Innovation & Government Reform working group that includes Julius Genachowski, reportedly Obama’s pick as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission.

On the campaign trail, Obama said he would make national access to broadband a priority, viewing the Internet as a key driver of jobs and economic growth.

Obama’s economic recovery plan has swollen to $850 billion, a massive package that includes tax cuts for businesses and individuals, spending on new bridges and highways, and billions in aid for state and local governments.

Last Thursday, the House Appropriations Committee chairman, Rep. David Obey (D-Wisc.), said his panel wanted to include $6 billion in broadband and wireless grants for “underserved” areas.

“For every dollar invested in broadband, the economy sees a tenfold return on investment,” Obey said in a statement.

The cable industry has called on the incoming Obama administration to focus broadband support on areas currently unserved, not necessarily underserved. Cable’s broadband pipes pass 92% of all U.S. homes.

“We look forward to learning more details of the broadband grants and will continue to work with Congress and the new Administration to expand broadband access and adoption in the U.S,” National Cable & Telecommunications Association spokesman Brian Dietz said.

In remarks at the “State of the Net Conference” on Capitol Hill Jan. 14, Levin indicated that the Obama administration will adopt a piecemeal approach to broadband and wouldn’t try to create new institutions for funding broadband projects in the pending stimulus package.

“The only thing you are doing in the economic recovery are those things that you can accomplish that are timely, targeted and temporary,” Levin said. “In order to do something on a timely basis, you have to move quickly and, in order to do that, you kind of have to use existing structures.”

Levin declined to be more specific about the funding size or structure of the broadband piece of the stimulus package.

Levin, on leave from his position as managing director of Stifel Nicolaus, was critical of recent news reports about where Obama and the incoming administration were heading on broadband policy. Those stories were “off-target,” because Obama’s policy won’t really be known until the public and Congress have had their chance to contribute their views, he said.

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