white housePresident Obama’s latest initiative to expand broadband availability, announced today, is to create a Broadband Opportunity Council charged with determining what various government agencies can do to help spur broadband deployment, competition and adoption. Heading up the effort will be Department of Agriculture Secretary John Vilsack and Commerce Department Secretary Penny Pritzker.

The Broadband Opportunity Council will comprise 25 agencies and government departments and will deliver recommendations within 150 days, said Vilsack on a conference call with reporters this morning.

“We will look at strategies and processes to complete the mission of expanding [broadband} access to homes and businesses,” said Vilsack. Among the issues to be considered, he said, are “What regulatory barriers exist? What tools do we have in the public sector [to spur broadband deployment}? . . . And are we using [broadband] most effectively?”

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The Broadband Opportunity Council
According to a fact sheet provided by the White House, the focus of the Broadband Opportunity Council will be on increasing broadband competition, deployment and adoption by:

  • Engaging with industry and other stakeholders to understand ways the government can better support the needs of communities seeking broadband investment
  • Identify regulatory barriers unduly impending broadband deployment or competition
  • Surveying and reporting back on existing programs that currently support or could be modified to support broadband competition, deployment or adoption
  • Taking all necessary actions to remove identified barriers and re-aligning existing programs

The recommendations from the council will include the steps each of the 25 agencies will take to advance broadband goals, including specific regulatory actions or budget proposals, the White House said. The fact sheet references previous steps the administration has taken along these lines such as developing a common application form for wireless broadband providers looking to lease space for rooftop antennas or  sharing best practices such as “dig once” policies with state and municipal governments.

As one of the biggest users of broadband connectivity, the federal government would appear to be in a position to drive strong broadband demand. Potentially by aggregating demand and coordinating efforts to obtain broadband connectivity the government could help make a case for broadband to be made available to areas where it is currently lacking or available only at low speeds. It’s a concept that already has worked for some communities seeking to obtain ultra-high-speed broadband networks, and pursuing that approach at the federal level would appear to be a good idea.

Other Initiatives
Also on today’s call, Director of the National Economic Council Jeff Zients touted the progress that has been made on mobile broadband deployment. The nation already has met the goal of making 4G mobile broadband available to 98% of the population – a goal that Obama previously established for 2016, he said.

Zients added, however, that “more work needs to be done in the area of wired broadband,” while Vilsack also noted that “many rural areas still need help on 4G.”

Also on today’s call, Vilsack touted the success of programs such as the broadband stimulus program and the ongoing broadband loan program in helping to expand broadband availability. Additionally Zients noted that the Commerce Department today released an update to the National Broadband Map that shows Internet options on a block-by-block basis.

And Vilsack took the opportunity to announce the latest companies awarded Rural Utilities Service loans for broadband projects, including:

  • Southwest Arkansas Telephone, $25 million
  • New Mexico’s Mescalero Apache Telecom, $5.4 million
  • Iowa’s Minburn Communications, $4.7 million

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