For the second time in a month, President Bush has tossed his support behind nationwide high-speed data service, viewing it as a technology destined to propel economic growth with corresponding benefits for health care and distance learning.
Once just a marketing slogan, broadband is today a hot topic in a presidential election year, as consumer and business demand builds for instantaneous access to Web pages, video clips, music files, medical records, and teleconferencing services. Addressing a community college association in Minneapolis on April 27, Bush called for nationwide broadband access by 2007 and urged the Federal Communications Commission to maintain its deregulatory agenda intend to spur investment and competition.
“We’re going to continue to support the [the FCC’s] Michael Powell, under his leadership, his decision to eliminate burdensome regulations on new broadband networks’ availability to homes. In other words, clearing out the underbrush of regulation, and we’ll get the spread of broadband technology, and America will be better for it,” Bush said.
About 25 million U.S. households subscribe to a high-speed data provider, with cable operators holding about 2-to-1 advantage over the Baby Bell phone companies.
Bush also reaffirmed support for a tax ban on Internet access, saying such a policy would make the service affordable and spread its use.
“If you want broadband access throughout the society, Congress must ban taxes on access,” Bush said.
Gene Kimmelman, public policy director for Consumers Union, applauded Bush’s goal but complained it won’t be met if cable-modem users have to pay more to access an Internet service provider not offered by the cable company.
“This policy of allowing cable operators to force consumers to buy their services is absolutely contrary to the President’s goal of offering consumers affordable Internet access,” Kimmelman said in a statement.
CABLE: SHARING BAD
Cable operators have invested $85 billion on digital upgrades since 1996.
The industry maintains that government-mandated facilities sharing at regulated rates would reduce broadband investment and harm consumers that want high-speed data services.
While broadband availability is quite high in the U.S., Bush lamented that the level of broadband adoption ranked the U.S. 10th among industrial nations.
“Tenth is about 10 spots too low as far as I’m concerned,” Bush said.
Insofar as improving broadband penetration, Bush did not voice support for government subsidies, which Japan and South Korea have used to simulate consumer demand.
“A proper role for the government is to clear regulatory hurdles so those who are going to make investments do so. Broadband is going to spread because it’s going to make sense for private sector companies to spread it so long as the regulatory burden is reduced — in other words, so long as policy at the government level encourages people to invest, not discourages investment,” Bush said.
A nation wired for broadband would turn every home into a potential distant learning classroom, Bush said.
“The expansion of broadband technology will mean education literally will head into the living rooms of students. That will even make the system more flexible and more available and more affordable,” he said.
Rapid transmission of medical records and X-rays would lead to faster action by doctors and prevent unnecessary death, Bush said.
“The ability to send an X-ray image in seven seconds and have a response back in 10 minutes with a preliminary analysis oftentimes will save lives,” he said.
In parts of the country too expensive to wire, Bush said wireless providers would fill in the gaps.
But wireless companies need spectrum, some of which is in the hands of TV stations that the FCC would like to reclaim.
“We need to open up more federally controlled wireless spectrum to auction in free public use, to make wireless broadband more accessible, reliable, and affordable,” Bush said.