Expert Opinion: White House Hits the Gas on Broadband Deployment

WASHINGTON, September 18, 2013 – There are 3.79 million square miles in the United States, and the federal government controls 30 percent of that land. This vast swathe of federally controlled land is roughly equivalent to the combined size of Alaska, California, Texas and Montana. So when a White H

WASHINGTON, September 18, 2013 – There are 3.79 million square miles in the United States, and the federal government controls 30 percent of that land. This vast swathe of federally controlled land is roughly equivalent to the combined size of Alaska, California, Texas and Montana.

So when a White House task force unveils a guide that lays out the best practices for “dig once”, a program aimed to cut the costs of deploying high-speed broadband along federal roadways by as much as 90 percent in certain areas, it’s big news.

This week, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) released its latest progress report in response to President Obama’s 2012 Executive Order aimed at accelerating broadband deployment on federally-owned property by making the deployment and construction process cheaper and more efficient. Monday’s White House action offers a clear cut example of how government can spur greater and more affordable opportunities for high-speed broadband deployment.

Access to and the use of high-speed broadband networks and services are critical to sustaining economic growth. The benefits of broadband-based services and websites have increased the nation’s global competitiveness, allowed small businesses to grow and enter new markets, and helped create many new high-paying jobs. President Obama has pushed to bring state-of-the-art communications networks to unserved and underserved communities. He has also sought to expand access to modern broadband networks by providing incentives for private sector investment designed to support new infrastructure deployment.

The White House announcement highlights several steps that will help reduce barriers to private sector broadband deployment, including an advanced mapping program that offers real-time guidance to identify the most efficient wired and wireless broadband deployment locations on federal land.  This tool will also help accelerate high-speed broadband deployment by providing industry with real-time information regarding streets that are currently under construction and thus easier to access.

Monday’s action includes the creation of a “one-stop shop” for permit forms, lease agreements, and other legal forms to help reduce the significant legal and regulatory costs often associated with deployment of high speed broadband infrastructure. This convenience should create further efficiencies as it will facilitate deployment approvals, particularly when broadband deployment permitting involves multiple Federal and state agencies.

OSTP estimates that these regulatory tools “can reduce network deployment costs along Federal roadways by up to 90 percent.”

While the programs OSTP announced this week offer nationwide benefits, rural America, which has trailed in receiving the best broadband access, may benefit most of all. High-speed broadband is increasingly important to farming communities (see here and here).  Faster and more affordable broadband enables greater access to e-learning and e-Health opportunities that level the playing field between citizens in cities and those living in rural areas.

Cheaper and more accessible high-speed broadband promises stunning social and economic benefits.  It can make better healthcare more accessible and more affordable for those who cannot travel.  It facilitates a host of online education options, which may make advanced learning more feasible and affordable for many Americans. Consider for example, a master’s degree in computer science from a respected university for about $7,000!

In short, faster and better high-speed broadband is a necessary step to creating jobs and opportunity at all levels of the economy, and increasing the speed and efficiency at which these networks can be constructed is vital to our nation’s success.  Here’s to the Administration for recognizing these realities and taking common-sense steps to provide the tools and guides needed to bring broadband to more Americans. Congratulations and keep up the good work!

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