By Kim Hart - 09/24/09 10:05 AM EDT
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has been inundated with ideas and suggestions for the national broadband plan it is putting together, with 10,000 pages of filings and notes from 25 workshops to sift through.
But Blair Levin, coordinator of the agency’s broadband task force, said he hopes to get still more ideas — especially good ones — before the report is due to Congress in about 150 days.
“I’m convinced we haven’t heard all the good ideas we need to bring this thing to fruition,” he said. “There’s time, but not that much time.”
The Media and Democracy Coalition, in conjunction with more than 40 other groups, released a report with a number of recommendations for connecting more people to broadband. (Levin hasn’t had time to read them yet, but he said he hopes to get to it this weekend.)
For example, the groups say federal policy should focus on locally owned operators to deploy the networks to create more competition and create jobs in communities. They also think federal Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra should be in charge of granting access to “mounting access,” such as telecom and fire towers, to build out wireless networks.
The groups also advocate separating the ownership of the broadband infrastructure from the delivery of service over the infrastructure — in other words, a cable company like Comcast wouldn’t be able to own a network and also sell Internet, cable and phone services over that network.
“Right now, cable companies have an incentive to limit consumers’ access to online video services in order to continue to charge monthly cable television subscription fees,” the report says.
In a separate report put out by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, the National Black Caucus of State Legislators and the National Conference of Black Mayors, among others, made recommendations for getting more African-Americans online.
The groups suggested requiring broadband access to be built into every unit of government-subsidized housing. They also said the government should support programs to ensure that parents with school-age children receive free, high-speed Internet access in the home.
Indeed, Levin said, 68 percent of students use the Internet as the primary source of help for homework, and those not online are at an academic disadvantage.
“The cost of digital exclusion is growing,” he said.
Too much Gov 2.0 hype?
“Government 2.0” — the buzzword of the year that refers to using interactive Web tools to improve governance — has been getting a lot of attention lately. But some industry analysts are starting to wonder if it’s getting too much.
The White House has pushed out several initiatives designed to get citizens more involved in the policymaking process and make the government more transparent. Just this week, it introduced an online program to let people follow citizenship applications through the immigration process via text messages and e-mails.
Vivek Kundra, the federal chief information officer, has pioneered many of the Government 2.0 principles: creating an online store for agencies to buy software, putting public data online and tracking IT spending with an online dashboard. Organizations such as the Sunlight Foundation have gotten in on the act, sponsoring “Apps for America” contests for developers to create new software applications using government data.
A Gov 2.0 Summit was held earlier this month, and CongressCamp, a gathering of congressional staffers who want to use social media in their jobs, recently took place.
But Andrea DiMaio, an analyst at market research firm Gartner, wrote on the company’s blog that the Gov 2.0 movement is probably “massively overhyped” and that the initiatives are likely only reaching tech-savvy developers and transparency advocates, rather than the public at large.
“Aren’t these initiatives simply addressing a small elite of technology-savvy individuals (and corporations), giving them further advantages over those who were digitally or otherwise excluded?” he wrote.
DiMaio said government employees should take the reins and direct the projects toward certain goals, rather than relying on a relatively small group of citizens. And the phenomenon needs to become less trendy before it actually shows value, he said.
“Only when it will catch fewer headlines and will gradually disappear from politicians’ speeches [will it] start to deliver real value,” he wrote. “At that time, I’m sure, somebody will be busy launching Government 3.0.”
Missing patent reform
President Barack Obama outlined an ambitious innovation agenda this week, including developing a more robust information technology infrastructure, emphasizing clean tech and using technology to revitalize the healthcare system.
But some groups say there is a glaring omission: intellectual property reform.
“The whole purpose of the patent system is to protect people to be creative, which is called innovation,” said Ed Black, president and chief executive of the Computer & Communications Industry Association.
CCIA has been pushing for patent reform for some time. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and ranking member Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) are still pushing the patent reform bill they introduced in March to the floor.
While Obama urged U.S. companies to be more competitive on the world stage, Hatch says the president’s budget proposal calls for changes in the international tax rules that discourage high-tech firms from doing business in the United States.