Obama’s CTO Plugs Broadband Stimulus Plan

Published December 2, 2009

President Barack Obama’s Chief Technology Officer says the administration wants to develop partnerships with service providers to support development of new advances in the technology industry, especially in broadband.

Aneesh Chopra broadly outlined the federal government’s plans at a keynote address at Supercomm 2009, a telecom trade show held in Chicago at the end of October.

The nation’s communications use, Chopra said, will grow from 1 gigabit per person per month now to 4.7 gigabits per person per month by the end of 2013.

“From a public policy standpoint, it’s important to note that these applications are having a dramatic effect on our private sector,” Chopra said, pointing to development efforts of General Electric in medical imaging and other products that send large files across the Internet and thus require broadband communications in order to be effective.

Plugging the Stimulus

Similar private-sector development can be stimulated by further government funding, said Chopra. He noted the administration’s recent stimulus package included billions of dollars for telecom development.

“We as a nation are at our best when we invest in the building blocks of innovation,” Chopra said. “We also acknowledge that as a nation we need to invest in research and development.

“Together we might unearth new public/private partnerships on all kinds of topics,” Chopra said.

Pushing for More Money

Though the stimulus plan included some $7 billion for telecommunications, other speakers at the three-day conference pointed out significant expansion of broadband communications would require much more investment than is currently planned.

Several also faulted the continued investment in older telecommunications systems, especially in rural areas, which are much more costly to build and maintain than newer and faster systems.

Government Strings a Concern

Several conference attendees criticized the Obama administration and the Federal Communications Commission for their plans to spend billions in taxpayer money that will come with strings the private sector is likely to reject.

“There are reasons AT&T and other major carriers didn’t apply for these [stimulus] funds,” said Jim Cicconi, a member of AT&T’s external and legislative affairs executive team, during a Supercomm panel discussion. “[The government] put strings and requirements that are very similar to net neutrality laws. That’s absolutely a factor in why AT&T didn’t apply.”

Others likewise said the government rules kept them applying for stimulus money, even though doing so may have deterred some innovation on their part.

Crossing the Line

“The administration should encourage innovation but should not cross the line and be involved” in deciding what avenues are pursued, said Jeff Kagan, an Atlanta, Georgia-based telecom and wireless industry analyst. “The problem is when the government gives, they expect to get.

“Companies don’t want the government telling them what to do and how to do it. That’s what typically happens,” Kagan said. “So that’s why companies would rather work without the government’s hands in the mix.”

“If the government would give money and not expect or demand anything in return, that would be fine,” Kagan added.

Phil Britt ([email protected]) writes from South Holland, Illinois.