White House eyes faster Internet speeds with new push

White House eyes faster Internet speeds with new push
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The White House is launching a new effort to speed up Americans’ access to the Internet.

President Obama on Monday signed an order creating a new council cutting across more than 25 different agencies to focus exclusively on ways to speed up companies’ ability to connect people to high-speed Web access.

“This is a good day for innovation and a good day for expanded opportunity to connect U.S. businesses, job-seekers, farmers, ranchers and producers throughout the United States to the rest of the world,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom VilsackThomas James VilsackUSDA: Farm-to-school programs help schools serve healthier meals OVERNIGHT MONEY: House poised to pass debt-ceiling bill MORE, who is leading the new effort along with Commerce Secretary Penny PritzkerPenny Sue PritzkerMichelle Obama officiated Chicago wedding: report Election Countdown: Trump plans ambitious travel schedule for midterms | Republicans blast strategy for keeping House | Poll shows Menendez race tightening | Cook Report shifts Duncan Hunter's seat after indictment Former Obama officials launch advocacy group aimed at Trump's foreign policy MORE.

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According to new data out of the Commerce Department, 98 percent of the country currently has access to high-speed 4G wireless Internet service.

But while many people have speedy access to the Web on their smartphones and tablets, wired hookups are not being deployed as quickly over as large a swath of the country.

“There’s more work to be done, especially in the area of wired broadband to hones and offices,” said Jeffrey Zients, the director of the National Economic Council.

The new council led by Vilsack and Pritzker will try to close that gap by working with government officials and private companies to pinpoint bureaucratic hurdles, ineffective programs or other impediments to roll out Web access. The council will need to report back to the White House with specific steps to take within 150 days.

At the same time, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is reopening a revamped loan program to spread broadband service across the nation’s rural areas.

On Monday, the USDA announced that it would be giving out $35 million in loans to services in Arkansas, New Mexico and Iowa. That’s just the beginning, it said.

“We’ll have probably 25 to 30 major projects similar to the announcement we’re making today throughout the year through our broadband loan and infrastructure program,” Vilsack said on a conference call with reporters.

The White House is framing the push as a followup to Obama’s call earlier this year for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to block state laws that limit government-run broadband services from expanding beyond their local town. The FCC took that step last month, to cheers from supporters who said it would lead to greater competition and, ultimately, better service for consumers.