Friday, May 02, 2008

Another think tank report calls for U.S. broadband policy leadership

America has an incomplete telecommunications infrastructure that frequently fails to provide broadband over much of its "last mile" and places the U.S. behind many other industrialized nations measured on broadband access and cost. The problem persists because of private market failure, lack of government leadership and proactive policies and ideological gridlock, concludes a report released this week.

Like other think tanks that warn the U.S. is at a crisis point for broadband, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation calls for a strong, effective national broadband policy, arguing that broadband is too critical to the economic well being of the nation to be left solely to market forces. Both public policymakers and private sector providers play a key leadership role, the report asserts, as occurs in other nations with greater broadband access at lower cost:

We should be able to agree that the United States can do better on broadband. The most important step the United States can take as a nation to improve our broadband performance may be to move beyond the divisive and unproductive debate over broadband policy that revolves around arguments about whether we are behind or ahead; whether our relative position is due to policy or other factors; whether unbundling is a magic bullet or an investment killer; and of course, whether net neutrality is the greatest threat to the Internet since its inception or something that is an anachronistic concept.

It’s time to reject the view that somehow this is a zero-sum game between corporate America and government. Both must clearly play a leadership role if we are to make headway on broadband performance. This means shifting the debate to focus on the key issues: how to enact public policies that emphasize the primary goal— getting as many American households as possible using high-speed broadband networks to engage in all sorts of online activities, including education, health care, work, commerce, and interacting with their government.

To give broadband providers the economic incentives to invest in broadband infrastructure, the report offers these specific recommendations:

1. More favorable tax policies to encourage investment in broadband networks, such as accelerated depreciation and exempting broadband services from federal, state, and local taxation.

2. Continue to make more spectrum, including “white spaces,” available for next-generation wireless data networks.

3. Expand the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service Broadband Program and target the program to places that currently do not have non-satellite broadband available.

4. Reform the federal Universal Service Fund program to extend support for rural broadband to all carriers, and consider providing the funding through a reverse auction mechanism.

5. Fund a national program to co-fund state-level broadband support programs, such as Connect Kentucky or North Carolina e-NC Authority.

6. Promote the widespread use of a national, user-generated, Internet-based broadband mapping system that would track location, speed, and price of broadband.

7. State and local governments should take action to make it easier for providers to deploy broadband services, including making it easier to access rights-of-way.

8. Support initiatives around the nation to encourage broadband usage and digital literacy.

9. Fund a revitalized Technology Opportunities Program, with a particular focus on the development of nationally scalable Web-based projects that address particular social needs, including law enforcement, health care, education, and access for persons with disabilities.

10. Exempt broadband Internet access from federal, state, and local taxes.

11. Support new applications, including putting more public content online, improving e-government, and supporting telework, telemedicine, and online learning programs.

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