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Broad Backing for Broadband

’Tis the quadrennial season for groups to promote their special interests to the winners in the latest national election.

And yesterday, a coalition of organizations—including some education associations—were pumping up the prospects in Washington for extensive upgrades to the nation’s broadband networks, with education as one of the key areas that would benefit.

The diverse collection of allies issued “A Call to Action for a National Broadband Strategy” to President-elect Obama and the next Congress to develop and start implementing a comprehensive broadband strategy in 2009.

The two-page call to action lays out five goals that the groups agree belong in a national broadband strategy:

a. Every home, business, and public and private institution should have access to affordable high-speed broadband connections to the Internet.
b. Access to the Internet should, to the maximum feasible extent, be open to all users, service providers, content providers, and application providers.
c. Network operators must have the right to manage their networks responsibly, pursuant to clear and workable guidelines and standards.
d. The Internet and broadband marketplace should be as competitive as reasonably possible.
e. U.S. broadband networks should provide Americans with the network performance, capacity, and connections they need to compete successfully in the global marketplace.

Notice the phrases, “to the maximum feasible extent,” “pursuant to …workable guidelines and standards,” and “competitive as reasonably possible.”

Such hedges may be necessary to get signatures on the same page from industry players such as the Telecommunications Industry Association, the Utilities Telecom Council, Intel Corp., and Google Inc.; education-oriented groups such as the Internet2 consortium, EDUCAUSE, the North American Council for Online Education, and the American Library Association; and think tanks such as the Benton Foundation and the New America Foundation, which organized the Dec. 2 event.

The full list of current signatories is here.

Some ed-tech groups, including the Washington-based Consortium for School Networking, are not on the list, at least not yet.

CoSN’s chief executive officer Keith R. Krueger said in an e-mail that the group has “not yet taken an official position" on this particular call for broadband but would be formalizing its positions for the new lobbying season over the next month. CoSN has long been an advocate of making broadband more widely available to the nation's schools.

Broadband is high on many ed-tech groups' agendas, as you can read in Katie Ash's recent piece in Digital Directions.

The call for a national broadband strategy will likely reach receptive ears in the incoming Obama administration, which has already pledged to try to “get true broadband to every community in America” and said that Obama and Vice-President elect Biden “strongly support the principle of network neutrality to preserve the benefits of open competition on the Internet.”

The Federal Communications Commission and the nation's telecommunications companies, of course, are vital partners in any effort to expand broadband access here.

The budget is the obvious barrier to greater federal involvement, considering the fiscal demands of the recession and the billions of dollars it will cost to bring affordable broadband to every rural hill and hollow and urban enclave in this country.

Obama has said, however, that he wants to relieve the nation's economic distress by investing heavily in its infrastructure, and I’m sure it is no accident that the paper declared, “Broadband is becoming as important to the United States as canals, railroads, electricity, telephones, and highways were in the last two centuries."

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