Obama May be Good News for Wireless Efforts
As Barack Obama prepares to take the reins of the Executive Branch of the U.S. government from President George W. Bush, a lobbyist suggests the economic crisis may make it difficult for Obama to fulfill a key campaign pledge.
In order to bring broadband service to every American community, the government will need to fund wireless buildup, said Pete Leon, vice-president of Dow Lohnes Government Strategies LLC, a Washington, D.C.-based lobby firm.
"I think it's possible," Leon said. "It's more a question of how the administration is going to prioritize it in the fiscal crisis the U.S. government faces."
Obama and Vice President Elect Joe Biden said during the campaign they "believe" they can get "true broadband to every community in America."
Obama's staff did not immediately respond to a request for comment, though his campaign manager, David Plouffe, asked a reporter to buy a T-Shirt for US$30 to help pay off campaign debt.
In a policy paper, Obama said he would change the Universal Service Fund, which is currently overseen by the Federal Communications Commission and requires long-distance carriers to subsidize telecom services for high-cost areas, low-income customers, schools and libraries.
In the paper, dubbed Connecting and Empowering All Americans Through Technology and Innovation, Obama said he will change the Universal Service Fund from "from one that supports voice communications to one that supports affordable broadband, with a specific focus on reaching previously un-served communities."
Leon noted there have been "significant changes to the Rural Utility Service Program," which includes the Broadband Access Loan Program and is run by the US Department of Agriculture.
In the past, Leon noted, they could only subsidize companies to build broadband where there was demand
"That's not what Congress wanted," he said. "Congress wanted (broadband) where it wasn't."
He added despite the joint venture between Sprint-Nextel and Clearwire Corp., "Nobody seems to be making a massive effort" to deploy WiMAX.
"You are going to have to go wireless for a large portion of the physical land mass of the United States," he said, adding some wireline technologies are quite new.
"Some of the technology has only been on the market three or four years," he said. "The technology for rural on the wireline side has yet to catch up."
In Canada, several broadband Internet projects have received funding from various levels of government.
For example, the Ontario government's Rural Connections Broadband program provided $480,000 to a project using pre-WiMAX fixed wireless technology.
And last month, the Kativik Regional Government (KRG) in northern Quebec announced it signed up for satellite service with Telesat in a project funded by the National Satellite Initiative, Villages branchés du Québec and the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund.
Down south, Obama plans to "demand a review" of wireless spectrum, reserve spectrum for police, fire and ambulance agencies and encourage public-private partnerships to deliver broadband.
He has also promised to re-define broadband, which is now defined as 200 Kilobits per second.
Leon said Obama would need to use both direct subsidies and low-interest loans to make good on his campaign promises. He added one challenge will be figuring out exactly who does and does not have broadband access.
"We don't have very good data," he said. "We know the island of Manhattan has an enormous amount of fibre. But what about (California's) Orange County and Upstate New York?"