» Adelstein wants D.C. action on broadband
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Adelstein wants D.C. action on broadband
By Carol Wilson

Jun 18, 2008 11:40 AM

Broadband is so important to the U.S. economic and well-being that the federal government and major telecom service providers need to work together to develop a broadband strategy that will also be in the industry’s best interests, Federal Communications Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein said Tuesday in a Wiley Rein Communications and TechLaw Forum session.

“Broadband is special, it’s not like any other utility,” Adelstein said. “We need to give it a higher priority than we have.”

Other governments who have made broadband a priority and found ways to subsidize broader penetration have succeeded in increasing penetration and driving down the cost of broadband. Those countries, such as Japan, Korea and Sweden, rank above the U.S. on the broadband penetration and could threaten American technology leadership, Adelstein said.

The key is for the federal government to sit down with the telecom industry and devise a mutually beneficial strategy, Adelstein said. “The role of the government won’t be maximized unless there is agreement on both sides,” he said. “We need that kind of engagement, we need to get everybody in the room with the government.”

Because the U.S. telecom infrastructure is privately funded and “not all benefits of broadband accrue to the companies deploying the systems,” and investing the capital, it is appropriate for the federal government to invest in broadband, Adelstein said. “There are many other benefits to education, healthcare, economic productivity, e-government – we can increase the efficiency of the government and improve our democracy.”

There are also energy savings and environmental benefits of a more ubiquitous broadband network, Adelstein said. He dismissed the idea that the U.S. is hamstrung by its wide open spaces and rural areas, while global broadband leaders tend to be countries with more densely populated landscapes.

“I want to invigorate the debate on that, to address the rural issue,” Adelstein said. “It is a challenge, but other countries have taken on that challenge and succeeded. Other countries have set [higher broadband penetration] as a goal and reached that goal. That kind of leadership helps.”

Another thing the federal government could do to help is give lower income children more access to PCs, Adelstein said. Countries such as Sweden have used tax credits to do this, while South Korea allows low-income kids to rent computers at low cost from their schools, “like a subsidized lunch program,” Adelstein said. Such as program would close the digital divide that keeps lower income children from the kind of educational benefits which lead to better jobs, he added.

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