WASHINGTON, June 3, 2009 - Increasing broadband penetration will allow the U.S. to increase engagement abroad and will be an essential element of the Obama administration's diplomatic strategy, said Alec Ross, a senior adviser to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Ross spoke at a panel on Web 2.0 technology and the federal government at the Center for American Progress Action Fund on Monday.
"Twenty-first century statecraft" has the potential to "expand and enhance" the way by which the government engages the rest of the world, Ross said. In particular, Ross suggested America's position as a "driver of innovation" will give America an edge when practicing diplomacy.
New media technologies are already allowing the president, vice president and secretary of state to push their messages directly to the people of foreign nations. And in some cases, Ross said people in those countries have responded by demanding that same openness of their own governments.
But new media is not only being delivered to computers in other countries, Ross said.
Citing statistics predicting 4 billion mobile handsets in use by the end of 2010, Ross said mobile technology is very much a part of broadband infrastructure - one not often associated with the U.S. New media will not be viewed as simply an American form of media, Ross said.
And America will invest in ensuring people in the developing world have access to broadband, Ross said. "It is very important to me that we not ignore the issue of a digital divide -- I don't think we can wait."
Implementing foreign aid programs that encourage broadband adoption will be a "personal priority" for Ross, who joined the Obama campaign team after founding One Economy Corporation, which promotes programs to solve digital divide issues. The goal will be "empowerment of the individual at the village level."
But bringing the internet to every village could end up like the ill-fated "bridge to nowhere" project, said O'Reilly. Rather than digging trenches and laying ubiquitous fiber, he suggested a more productive use of resources would be placement of data centers in remote areas.
"It may be that the phone is what we need in the local community...not actually broadband to the home so someone in some little town can watch movies," he said.
O'Reilly said the rise of "big, new, data-driven monopoly companies" will necessitate a focus on competitiveness and maintaining open networks. But while admitting fiber to the home was not his preference for international build-out and adoption, he suggested the future broadband was wireless.
Broadband should not be defined by fixed pipes - but by swaths of open spectrum available for neighborhoods and institutions, he said. "The mobile experience is so much more important than the home experience."