Obama's Chief Scientist Pushes National Broadband Plan

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The White House's top science and technology adviser, John Holdren, is putting his weight behind the development of the controversial national broadband plan.

Holdren, speaking at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston Monday night, said the national broadband plan has a lot to recommend it.

"I am convinced that it would be of benefit in many different respects," he said. "There would be an improvement in the productivity of the science and engineering enterprises, but I can't say by how much and I don't know if anybody can."

The FCC's national broadband plan, released in March, sets aside US$15.5 billion over 20 years from the Universal Service Fund (USF), which has been used to subsidize traditional telephone service, for broadband deployment.

Holdren's comments come on the back of a recent report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which said any attempt to implement the national broadband plan would be "challenging" despite other countries having similar goals.

"Actions will be required by governments at all levels and the private sector," the report said. "Implementing the plan's recommendations will require coordinating the work of multiple stakeholders and obtaining sufficient funding, among other actions."

While Holdren said the plan would boost the populations and productivity levels of rural and regional areas, he said he was unable to provide quantitative estimates as it wasn't his field of expertise.

"I would guess it is [worth billions of dollars] because the leverage is probably very substantial," he claimed. "But when it comes to budgets, this is a delicate matter because we have very difficult financial constraints and I don't want to endorse a particular number or version of the plan. "

The White House adviser said the best solution was to pursue a national system that didn't involve the federal government spending large amounts of money.

"This is an area like many others where we have to have some sort of public/private cooperation and partnership," he said. "But clearly the private sector must do a lot of it, it has to."

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