Bush Was Silent on Broadband Policy


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 telephone industries had hoped Bush would establish a national broadband policy, perhaps by proposing tax credits for equipment makers and companies willing to extend high-speed links to rural areas. Some groups wanted the White House to back 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.

Precursor Group media and telecom 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," Cleland said. "Broadband is not a top-tier issue with national security, homeland security and the recession."

The United States Telecom Association, which represents three Baby Bells and hundreds of additional local phone carriers, didn't view Bush's speech as totally irrelevant 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," said USTA spokeswoman Allison Remsen.

The USTA is a strong supporter of House broadband legislation (HR 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 platform 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," said Epstein, now a private attorney whose clients include AT&T Corp. "In all relevant quarters now — on the Hill, in the technology trade associations, and now apparently [in] the administration — [the Tauzin-Dingell bill] is increasingly [being] seen as irrelevant and even unhelpful to promoting broadband deployment."

The White House is preparing a broadband policy, but Nancy Victory, director of the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration, last week would not pinpoint when its 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," Daschle said in a Jan. 4 speech. "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."