William G. Korver, Reporter, BroadbandCensus.com
WASHINGTON, June 23 - Presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama should issue a statement underscoring the consensus between Republicans and Democrats on the importance of broadband in the United States, said the organizer of capitol hill forum on Monday afternoon entitled “Broadband Revolution.”
Speaking at the event, which was sponsored by the New America Foundation, attorney Jim Baller said that a joint statement from the presumptive presidential nominees of the two major political parties would illustrate that the federal government is seriously reevaluating its current broadband policy – no matter who assumes the White House on January 21, 2009.
Both McCain, the Republican Senator from Arizona, and Obama, the Democratic senator from Illinois, have solid solutions to improve the current broadband situation in the U.S., said Baller, of the Baller Herbst Law Group. Baller represents municipalities that seek to offer broadband as an alternative to incumbent telecommunications and cable companies. He has also promoted the notion of a national broadband strategy.
Also speaking at the event were Federal Communications Commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein, both Democrats. About 75 people attended the event in the 9th floor of the Hart Senate Office Building. The event had originally been scheduled for another, smaller location, but moved because of high demand.
Copps, who served in the Clinton adminstration and was a long-time aide to Sen. Ernest “Fritz” Hollings, D-S.C., said that a new administration and a more active Congress should rejuvenate what he described as a “stagnant” atmosphere around a national broadband policy and universal broadband service.
Copps said that the U.S. must cease to debate whether broadband topics are liberal or conservative; regulatory or deregulatory. Such questions are “foolishness” in the extreme, Copps said. He said that the U.S. should not settle for being 12th or 15th in global broadband penetration.
Only with more federal assistance to states can broadband become universal and the U.S. become the “unquestioned leader of broadband,” said Adelstein, a former aide to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D.
He said that there have been stacks of reports involving a national broadband policy, yet he decried the lack of leadership to implement the strategies.
Both Copps and Adelstein criticized the state of American broadband: broadband costs that are four times those of Japan at only one-tenth of the speeds available in the country.
Both also said that the FCC should “guarantee the openness of the Internet,” a reference to their support for Net Neutrality policies, or those that would require Bell and cable companies not to differentiate in the prices that they charge businesses for similar services.
Adelstein also called for more public education on broadband, targeted subsidies for remote areas, and an increase in spectrum devoted to bolstering competitie wireless entrants. He was particularly interested in promoting a third entrant in competition with cable and Bell companies.
Jane Smith Patterson, executive director for North Carolina's e-NC Authority, agreed that efforts to make broadband universally availability will require federal, and not just state action.
Patterson said that, through the work of e-NC and its volunteers, 82 percent of North Carolina households are now capable of receiving a high-speed Internet connections.
Patterson said that e-NC is now calling on the state of North Carolina to participate in a “second revolution” of high-speed internet, with the goal of increasing the speed of connection.
Baller said that the average “high-speed” service in the U.S. ranged between one and nine megabits per second (8 Mbps), versus countries in Europe and Asia that now average 100 Mbps, and that aim to reach one gigabit (1 Gbps) within the next few years.
The U.S. cannot afford to continue to build schools complete with inadequate broadband services, Baller said. Yet he said that 98 percent of North Carolina schools have “the wrong kind” of broadband: one that is already obsolete.
If the cause of universal broadband is not taken up by political leaders and everyday individuals, the speakers said that the economy, education, health care, the environment and public safety will be adversely effected.