Friday, December 19, 2008

Media reform group recommends $44 billion broadband "down payment"

Free Press, a nonprofit group that advocates "diverse and independent media ownership, strong public media and universal access to communications," has issued a paper calling on the Obama administration and Congress to make a $44 billion "down payment" investment in U.S. broadband telecommunications infrastructure as part of the incoming administration's planned economic stimulus package.

Free Press plan recommends the bulk of the $44 billion be used to fund grants and interest free bonds to private sector providers as well as municipalities and nonprofits fund deployment of wireline and wireless broadband to underserved areas of the U.S. capable of providing minimum 5 Mbps symmetrical service with priority
given to projects that can deliver speeds in excess of 50 Mbps. The funding would be paid out over three years.

Free Press properly raises the concern that the funds could end up becoming a slush fund and like the Universal Service Fund has for voice telephone service could be used to fund broadband infrastructure in areas that already have a range of broadband services.

"Congress must not simply write blank checks to industry," the organization states in an executive summary of the report. "To maximize the effectiveness of scarce taxpayer resources, oversight and accountability measures must be established." Free Press suggests these measures include strict build-out schedules and affordability and capacity requirements, including minimum rather than "up to" throughput capacities.

"We offer these proposals as a starting point — not the bottom line," the group states. "Our hope is to expand the public debate and the deliberative process on broadband stimulus proposals to include a wide variety of ideas that have been put forward or are coming soon. Though we strongly believe that principles of accountability, future-proof quality, and public service priorities must guide any final legislation, this set of ideas should serve as a foundation for policymakers and the public."

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