Push Is On for National Broadband Strategy

Calling the availability of broadband a priority for an economic recovery, Sen. Joe Lieberman announces his plans to introduce legislation for a national broadband strategy.

ALAMEDA, Calif.—Sen. Joe Lieberman, calling the availability of broadband a priority for an economic recovery, announced Tuesday his plans to introduce legislation next week that would force the Bush administration to develop a national broadband strategy.

Liebermans focus, though, isnt on the current debate on Capitol Hill about how to spread currently available broadband technologies such as DSL and cable at speeds up to 1.5M bps to more homes and businesses. Hes honing in on what he calls "advanced broadband" that would deliver speeds of 10M bps to 100M bps.

"Policy makers have been focusing on short-term obstacles to the next small jump in speed," said Lieberman, speaking on the campus of Wind River Systems Inc. here. "Weve got to look beyond those disputes for a larger and longer-term vision."

Lieberman, D-Conn., avoided criticizing the Bush administration during follow-up questions but did say the administration has "not been moving rapidly enough." That is why he said he is introducing the National Broadband Strategy Act of 2002.

Along with legislation for the administration to develop a plan within six months, Lieberman said that in coming months he will introduce additional legislation with the goal of expanding the availability of the higher-bandwidth broadband technologies. Lieberman offered few details but outlined four goals for other legislation.

The goals are to call on the Federal Communications Commission to develop a regulatory framework for next-generation broadband, to provide tax credits as an incentive for deployments, to push for research and development on broadband infrastructure, and to offer incentives for research and development in areas of particular importance to the government such as education, defense, health care and e-government.

Broadband bills are already working their way through the Senate after the House of Representatives in February passed the Tauzin/Dingell bill, formally known as the Internet Freedom and Deployment Act, which would end regulation of incumbent telecom carriers on broadband data services. Lieberman, in a follow-up question, said his goal is to press for the development of an overarching federal strategy for advanced broadband.

"I do not want to get into that current slugfest because it takes us away from the longer-term potential for a national broadband strategy," Lieberman said.

Fellow Democratic Sen. Ernest "Fritz" Hollings of South Carolina has introduced legislation that maintains regulation of the incumbent telecom companies. Hollings, chairman of the Senate Commerce committee, has called the Tauzin/Dingell bill "blasphemy" and said he wont support a similar bill in the Senate. Instead he has proposed providing loans and grants for improving broadband in rural areas and underserved areas and for research into higher-speed broadband technologies.

Lieberman hasnt signed onto that bill, according to a spokesman. So far, he is a co-sponsor to another piece of legislation introduced by Sen. John Rockefeller, D-W.Va., which provides tax credits to companies delivering broadband to rural and underserved urban areas and for the delivery of next-generation broadband.