Proposal For Our Digital Future

Producer: Stevie Converse & Candace Clement
Media Minutes for January 9, 2009
Text: http://www.freepress.net/files/MM 1-9-09 - Transcript.doc
Audio: http://www.freepress.net/audio/download/47069/MM+01+09+09.mp3

The 111th Congress is now in session, and the first order of business is a massive economic stimulus package. President-elect Barack Obama has been vocal about his intention to devote part of the money to broadband infrastructure as one way to boost the economy. According to a 2007 study by the Brookings Institution, a 20 percent increase in broadband adoption -- putting the U.S. on par with a country like Denmark -- would create 3 million new jobs.

As the Obama transition team shifted into high-gear last month, S. Derek Turner, research director of Free Press, put forward a proposal to make world-class, high-speed broadband available to all areas of the country, bring new competition to the broadband market -- which will help keep prices down -- and boost America's slumping standing as a global leader in technology.

Derek Turner -- There is a sort of intersection and a unison between what is good telecom policy and what is good stimulus policy, and I think we found that. And the way we achieve this is basically, since things are moving so fast, we tried to use off the shelf ideas, policy options that have already been debated or programs that are already in place and essentially tweak those a little bit, boost the funding, and get them out the door as fast as possible. And so we think this is something that is realistic and can be done as soon as possible and start getting new jobs created this year -- and for the years to come.

Turner wants a high-capacity broadband infrastructure across America, including rural and low-income areas. The $44 billion proposal is a mixture of federal grants, bonds, tax incentives and credits. Funding would only be awarded for new projects and faster speeds that wouldn't happen otherwise. Accountability, Turner says, is the cornerstone of the package.

Derek Turner -- We can't simply be writing blank checks to companies and get nothing in return. Money's not going to be used to give companies funds to do things they were already going to do. We only propose supporting new investment beyond what would have already have taken place. And there are checks and balances in our proposal to make that happen. That's something we absolutely have to be aware of. Unless the accountability and oversight is there, there's no point to doing it at all. We shouldn't use the money for broadband if there's no accountability or oversight -- we should use it for something else. Our proposals are designed to lead the deployment of next generation, truly robust, fast broadband networks -- broadband networks that we're not seeing deployed in the U.S., but are commonplace in places like Japan and South Korea.

Since job creation will only come with people actually using broadband services, Turner also includes proposals to stimulate demand, like subsidies for installation, discounts on monthly subscriptions, tax deductions for home computers for children, and a program to purchase laptops and build Wi-Fi networks at schools and libraries. Rural development, health care and public service programs are also covered, along with improved broadband data collection and public access to that data.

Turner's is not the only plan that's been given to the Obama transition team. Some have merit and others are much more industry-friendly.

Derek Turner -- Some of the other plans that are out there are well-detailed and good. Fiber-to-the-Home Council -- their plan is one for bonds for building fiber-to-the-home. We think that's a good plan. There are some plans that I would be a little cautious about. There's one by an industry-funded think tank that on the surface seems to be reasonable -- it's got some good speed goals and it's a tax credit program. But when you drill down, you actually see that this plan would not actually lead to any new broadband investment and could essentially just be a big gift to the incumbent phone and cable companies. So we need to only work with plans and only adopt plans that are open, transparent, and that have real measurable end goals and there's real accountability and oversight to make sure that those end goals are reached.

To read Derek Turner's proposal, go to freepress.net/research