Plan Calls for $44B in Broadband Spending

After President-elect Barack Obama plans the largest government-funded infrastructure program since the interstate highway system in the 1950s, media reform group Free Press calls for the U.S. government to spend $44 billion to improve U.S. broadband infrastructure and extend broadband to rural and other underserved areas.

President-elect Barack Obama should spend $44 billion in broadband stimulus funds over the next three years as part of his immediate economic program, according to a new study from the media reform group Free Press. The proposed tax incentives and grant programs would not include projects previously planned by telecommunications companies.

Instead, according to "Down Payment on Our Digital Future: Stimulus Policies for the 21st-Century Economy,"(PDF) the funds should be allocated for building next-generation broadband networks, connecting unserved and underserved areas, supporting affordable Internet connections, providing computers and technology training for low-income users, and promoting Internet access for children at school and at home.

"Investing in the information superhighway is a concrete way for President-elect Barack Obama and Congress to kick-start the economy and secure long-term prosperity," S. Derek Turner, study author and research director of Free Press, said in a statement. "But since future generations will be footing the bill for this stimulus package, Congress must ensure that these funds deliver the next-generation networks this country needs. There should be no blank checks."

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Turner said telecom and cable companies should not be beneficiaries of the funds since a "lack of meaningful" competition among current broadband providers has dampened incentives for network operators to make substantial upgrades or build out broadband connections to rural and underserved areas.

Under the Free Press plan, tax incentives and grant programs would be designed to trigger new investments that Turner claims would create "tens of thousands of new technology-sector jobs" and generate "hundreds of billions of dollars in economic activity."

The United States currently ranks 22nd in the world in broadband adoption, with more than 40 percent of all U.S. homes not connected to broadband. Obama said Dec. 6 that investing heavily in computers and broadband connections for schools and hospitals would be part of his immediate economic recovery plans after he takes office Jan. 20. Obama, though, did not mention a specific amount of money for technology infrastructure investments.

Obama pledged to make the single largest new investment in national infrastructure since the creation of the federal highway system in the 1950s. In addition to infusing school districts and the health care industry with federal IT dollars, the plan also includes a massive effort to make public buildings and schools more energy-efficient.

The president-elect said he hopes a flood of federal cash to states for the projects will ultimately create 2.5 million jobs.

"Broadband is the great equalizer," Turner said. "It has more potential than any other technology in history to raise the standard of living for all Americans. Building this world-class broadband network is a down payment on that digital future."