Bush Speech Silent on Broadband Policy

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Emphasizing homeland security and counterterrorism abroad, President Bush
failed to enunciate any broadband policy in his nationally televised State of
the Union address Tuesday night.

In the weeks heading into the speech, the technology and phone industries
were hoping Bush would establish a national broadband policy, perhaps proposing
tax credits for equipment makers and for companies willing to extend high-speed
links into rural areas.

Some groups wanted the White House to back the creation of a high-speed-data
network with a transmission rate of 100 megabits per second.

But Bush, in outlining his domestic agenda, highlighted job growth through
retention of last year's tax cuts, energy independence, pension reform and
Social Security personal-retirement accounts.

The Precursor Group media and telecommunications analyst Scott Cleland said
some groups had inflated expectations that Bush was ready to focus on broadband
policy.

'This president did not want a laundry list of domestic proposals like his
predecessor. Broadband is not a top-tier issue with national security, homeland
security and the recession,' Cleland said.

The United States Telecom Association -- which represents three Baby Bells
and hundreds more local phone carriers -- didn't view Bush's speech as totally
without relevance to broadband policy.

'We were really encouraged by his emphasis on how important economic recovery
is, and we see broadband deployment as one way to help the economy,' USTA
spokeswoman Allison Remsen said.

The USTA is a strong supporter of House broadband legislation (H.R. 1542)
sponsored by Reps. Billy Tauzin (R-La.) and John Dingell (D-Mich.). The bill,
which is expected to come to a House vote in March, would broadly deregulate the
high-speed-data platforms of the Baby Bell phone companies.

Julian Epstein, a former top lawyer to Democrats on the House Judiciary
Committee, said Bush's decision not to plunge into the broadband debate was a
setback for the Bells.

'It's another clear loss for the Bells and the special-interest monopoly
legislation they seek. In all relevant quarters now -- on the Hill, in the
technology trade associations and, now, apparently the administration -- [the
Tauzin-Dingell bill] is increasingly [being] seen as irrelevant and even
unhelpful to promoting broadband deployment,' said Epstein, who is now in
private practice and counts AT&T Corp. among his clients.

The White House is preparing a broadband policy, but Nancy Victory, director
of the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information
Administration, would not pinpoint last week when policy positions would be
articulated.

On Capitol Hill, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) has embraced
government intervention to make high-speed data as ubiquitous as the telephone
in the lives of all Americans.

'High-speed, broadband Internet access has become an indispensable tool for
businesses, schools, libraries and hospitals. And access to this service is fast
becoming the line between the haves and have-nots in the information age. We
should create tax credits, grants and loans to make broadband service as
universal tomorrow as telephone access is today,' Daschle said in a Jan. 4
speech.

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