Big Week for Obama Administration and Rural Broadband

Carl Weinschenk

This is the government's week to make announcements on the future of broadband in rural areas. Yesterday, the FCC released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that asked for ideas on reforming the Universal Service Fund (USF) in a manner that would promote broadband to rural areas.

The release of the NPRM followed a speech the previous day by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski. Yesterday, his old college buddy-a fellow named Barack Obama-gave a speech at Northern Michigan University in Marquette to fill in some of the blanks on the plans he announced on wireless during the State of the Union address on Jan. 25.

The Washington Post provided extensive coverage of the specifics. The goal is to cover 98 percent of the nation with 4G coverage. Much of the spectrum would be opened up by the voluntary relocation of broadcasters. The plan will feature a $10.7 billion nationwide wireless first responder network, a $5 billion one-time investment to build wireless in rural areas and a $3 billion investment in research and development in mobile Internet access for health, education and energy. The $5 billion investment will be to the USF, according to Multichannel News.

The two initiatives obviously are coordinated, and both show that wireless is the key. That's a no-brainer to most of us, but keep in mind how many painfully obvious things the government manages to miss. Here is RCR Wireless's take:

As President Obama lays out his wireless broadband initiative today at Northern Michigan University in Marquette, Mich., the Federal Communications Commission is moving forward with its own plans to reduce regulatory barriers to broadband deployment. Both initiatives are evidence that the administration realizes the important role wireless plays in the economy, said PCIA President Mike Fitch.

People think covering technology is difficult. It is, however, child's play compared to following the ins and outs of regulatory affairs. The fate of the drive to create the first responders network and bring 4G to the hinterlands depends on a complex calculus of political, social, economic and electoral issues. It is clear, however, that the president and his administration are committed. That is made clear at TechNewsWorld:

Obama's plan "signals the president's commitment to a fourth-generation wireless broadband system for the U.S. that will be comparable to today's wired broadband," said telecommunications attorney Daniel Brenner of Hogan Lovells. "It's most unusual for a president to be involved in the details of spectrumrecapture. But, as he signaled in the State of the Union address, this is a top priority."

One other thing is certain: Barack Obama is pretty good at delivering on initiatives in which he believes, even if they look somewhat different at the end of the legislative process.

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