Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story had a typographical error in the second paragraph, which has been fixed.
WASHINGTON, May 14, 2009 – One of President Obama’s top technology and economic policy officials said Thursday that broadband infrastructure is and must remain a key priority of the Obama administration.
“Broadband is the new essential infrastructure,” said National Economic Council official Susan Crawford. “Access to broadband does not guarantee” success, but “lack of access to broadband will guarantee economic decline.”
Crawford, speaking at a summit on “Changing Media,” highlighted the importance of broadband technology not only to economic development, but also to education, health care, social needs, and the future of journalism.
She said that Obama was very enthusiastic about the creation of a national broadband plan – a charge that was tasked to the Federal Communications Commission by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that passed in February.
“The president mentions broadband all the time,” Crawford said.
As with others at the summit, which was sponsored by the non-profit advocacy group Free Press, Crawford highlighted the dire state of journalism, particularly print journalism.
Noting that Obama addressed the future of journalism at last week’s White House Correspondent’s Dinner, and in his radio address last Saturday, she also said Obama “is also mentioning newspapers all the time, these days.”
For Crawford, the fate of broadband will acutely influence the fate of the newspaper industry. “These two futures go together. There is light at the end of the tunnel for this.”
For example, Crawford highlighted the growth in Twitter, from 5 million visitors in February, to 9.3 million visitors in March, to 19.4 million in April.
“The average Twitter user is two to three times more likely to go to online news sources than the average Joe Online.”
In the future she said, “Newspapers won’t hit our doorsteps. There will be tremendous consolidation. But there will be new [roles for journalists] in aggregation and curation” of online content.
“Many more people will be involved in its creation,” she said.
Precisely because all journalism will ultimately rely on broadband, Crawford said that the national broadband strategy was vital.
Crawford also highlighted the role that solid data about the speeds and prices of broadband connections will be necessary to executing the plan.
She said that data collected as part of the national broadband plan may lead policy-makers to conclude that there is a minimum speed that everyone should have access to. That might mean that everyone should have basic wireless access, she said.
At the same time, depending upon the application to be used by particular individuals or constituents, broadband data collected as part of a national plan might indicate that it made more sense to invest in higher-bandwidth pipes of the sort that are available through fiber-optic networks.
Speeds of broadband connections “really may matter for this news generation.”
In doctors offices, at least 100 Megabits per second (Mbps), or even 1 Gigabit per second, might be necessary. And, she argued, 100 Mbps “is not functionally equivalent” to a 3 Mbps connection.
Introducing Susan Crawford, Columbia University law professor Tim Wu noted that “We are at the end of the era of deregulation.”
“We are into something new: we just don’t know what,” said Wu, who coined the term “Net neutrality” and is chairman of the board of Free Press.