WASHINGTON, June 6, 2009 – Because today’s broadband networks are inadequate, the government needs to play a role in helping bridge the high-speed internet divide, Jim Kohlenberger, Chief of Staff in the White House’s Office of Science and Technology said Thursday.
Kohlenberger, speaking at the Thursday’s Broadband Stimulus National Town Hall webcast, highlighted the efforts of the Obama administration in increasing broadband access in the United States.
“We all do better when we are connected together, and broadband is now this critical infrastructure challenge for our generation,” Kohlenberger said. “It’s about our future, and we’re lucky to have a president who’s focused on the future and really gets it on broadband.”
Kohlenberger’s speech opened the town hall meeting, which was streamed live online on Thursday, and is available for free upon registration. The webcast was co-hosted by Drew Clark, Executive Director of BroadbandCensus.com, and Marty Stern, a partner at the law firm of K&L Gates.
The event will be followed by a national town hall broadband workshop – also co-produced by BroabandCensus.com and TV Worldwide – on Thursday, July 9. That date is shortly after the June 30 deadline by which NTIA and the Agriculture Department’s Rural Utilities Service are scheduled to release their final rules for broadband grants and loans.
The webcast included panel discussions on scoring grants by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, on private financing for broadband projects, and on the role of public-private partnerships in broadband applications. Deswood Tome, Executive Director of the Navajo Nation Telecommunications Regulatory Authority, also spoke during the webcast.
In his remarks, Kohlenberger said that the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) at the NTIA represented a critical domestic infrastructure investment. The U.S. has “fallen behind in our ability to harness our potential” in internet development.
Further investment in broadband technology will create opportunities for education, data, and communications development, he said. “Today’s broadband networks are far from ubiquitous.”
“Only 57% of Americans have broadband at home, and even that isn’t homogenous,” Kohlenberger said. ”We’re at thus juncture where we can and must do more to bridge this opportunity gap.”
President Obama’s reliance on technology, Kohlenberger noted, indicated his dedication to increasing broadband accessibility.
Obama “was propelled into office by new and enabling technologies…. Even today, the President is 5,000 miles away and he’s still connected in Egypt,” he said, referring to the President’s recent trip to Cairo.
“If you look at [International Telecommunications Union’s] digital opportunity index, it lists the US as 21st, right behind Estonia and tied with Slovenia. The President has looked at these rankings and called them ‘unacceptable.’ That’s why he’s made broadband access for all a national priority.”
The webcast, which included major figures from the broadband industry, the NTIA, and technological policy think tanks, debated major parts of the BTOP’s execution and definition.
During the first panel, on scoring grants, Scott Wallsten, vice president of research for the Technology Policy Institute, said there were three key problems in grant proposal evaluations: the BTOP’s unclear objective, lack of criteria to base a judgment upon, and the “sheer” volume of grant applications.
Wallsten proposed a competitive procurement auction, in which the government would bid for services and allocate them depending on certain communities’ needs. The fact that companies are writing advocacy plans, he said, “shows the failures in the plan so far. You would hope that these decisions wouldn’t promote advocacy, but the way everything’s been set up shows that everybody who’s going to submit a proposal is going to need help.”