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NTIA's Lawrence Strickling Describes Role of BTOP in Broadband Plan, Innovation Strategy

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NEW YORK, October 26, 2009 – NTIA Administrator Lawrence Strickling, speaking at a telecommunications conference here on Friday, said that a national broadband plan is key to the innovation strategy of the Obama administration, along with expanding research and development, increasing education and providing a strong technological ecosystem.

With regard to the Broadband Technologies Opportunity Program funding program, he said that not every good project would be funded, as there simply are not enough funds. At the same time, he said he wanted to make sure that the agency did not fund any bad projects.

Strickling was speaking at the Columbia University Institute for Tele-Information held its annual State of Telecom Conference: attendees ranged from policy makers, academics, and industry professionals from around the world. With a little more than 100 days to go until the due date for the Federal Communications Commission’s national broadband plan is due in February 20101, this year’s theme was “National Next-Generation Broadband Plans.”

Robert Pepper, Chair of CITI’s advisory board and vice president of global technology policy at Cisco Systems, opened the event with a speech on how the developing world once looked at the industrial world as a model of how information and communications technology could be used to help their citizenry with the added benefit of boosting local economic conditions. Now, the industrial world is looking to the developing world to determine which projects are best for economic stimulation.

The first panel of the day, entitled “National Broadband Plans” had representatives from the FCC, France’s Ministry of Research and State Secretariat for Digital Economy, Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore, along with other international officials.

Scott Wallsten, economic director of the FCC’s omnibus broadband initiative, described the intersection between the national broadband plan and the rest of the economy – including the “smart grid,’ health information and other integrated uses.

Wallsten also emphasized that broadband is a general-purpose technology which generates direct benefits and boosts the economy and society in general through the advancements made by using the technology and through peripheral usages.

Matthias Kurth, President of Germany’s Federal Network Agency, described his country’s universal broadband strategy, which seeks to bring all citizens a 1 Megabit per second (1 Mbps) connection by 2010 and an ambitious 50 Mbss connection by 2014.

Currently approximately 98% of the citizens have access to the internet, he said. Kurth highlighted the principal of funding connectivity where competition is not probable and to always remain technologically neutral in support of access.

Additionally, policy makers must look at all possible methods of connections, he said. While wireless may inherently be slower than a wired connection the goal is to bring people connectivity, once they see the value of being online they will demand a faster connection which will lead to increased investment and new wired connections. He also talked about the government encouraging industry to share installation and infrastructure costs.

Britain’s Derek Wyatt, a member of parliament and co-chairman of Parliament's All Party Communications Group, described the proposed universal broadband obligation of the British government, 2 Mbps by 2012; which will cost around U.S. $300 million. Wyatt’s noted how his organization, Citizens Online, sent volunteers to help those individuals who have not been online understand the different uses of the Internet and how it will help them.

Strickling was the keynote speaker of the event. His general theme was about how BTOP was progressing and the use of the Internet in citizen participation in government. In addition to the role of broadband in the administration’s innovation strategy, and the BTOP program, Strickling also talked about looking at projects that can sustain themselves after they stop receiving federal funding – and those which can be replicated in other parts of the country with the use of state or private funds.

The second panel of the day was “Public/Private Finance: Cost and Benefit.” It looked at how government funding affects private investment in telecommunications. The main theme, which the panel expressed, was that government funding must be spent efficiently and with an eye on “crowding out,” or the notion that government spending should not keep private sector investment out of the market.

The panel said it was clear that some areas of the country which will not sustain a competitive broadband market should be the targets of investment. Additionally, they said, regulation must be completely evaluated to determine how it will affect future funding. The other major point made by the panel was that the last-mile is not the only limiting factor, and that middle-mile and backbone also need to get government support to prevent bottle necks. The need for information and communications technology investment was best displayed by Leonard Waverman, Dean of the Haskayne School of Business, University of Calgary, who showed that 1 additional broadband line per 100 people increases productivity by 0.1 percent and that in the U.S., broadband expansion of 2.5 lines per 100 people adds 0.25 percent per year GDP growth.

The final panel of the day focused on emerging market structure, which talked about how ubiquity may not be the final solution – and that applications are really what will drive adoption.

In a presentation by Dr. Raul Katz from Columbia, the impact of broadband on jobs, discounting the initial construction jobs, was considered. Katz found that while some jobs will be lost due to labor moving from areas of no service to those with service in the long run employment increases overall as new business learn how to adopt broadband into day to day practices.

Jonathan Lienbenau from the London School of Economics explored the indirect effects of broadband on energy and transportation. The largest effect that these networks will have is improving the overall business environment not in the direct creation of jobs in the deployment of the network.

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Rahul Gaitonde has been writing for since the fall of 2009, and in May of 2010 he became Deputy Editor. He was a fellow at George Mason University’s Long Term Governance Project, a researcher at the International Center for Applied Studies in Information Technology and worked at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. He holds a Masters of Public Policy from George Mason University, where his research focused on the economic and social benefits of broadband expansion. He has written extensively about Universal Service Fund reform, the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program and the Broadband Data Improvement Act

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