Obama aims to boost broadband deployment, app development

The Obama administration has launched a two-pronged initiative to accelerate development and implementation of ultra-fast networks and applications to use them.

The first prong is an executive order to make it easier, and less expensive, to deploy broadband infrastructure on federal lands, buildings and rights of way by establishing a uniform approval process for building on or through government property. The second prong is a partnership of government, industry and academic communities to encourage and fund innovative technologies.

The goal is to foster a development and networking environment that enables radical advances in functionality such as remote delivery of health care and improvements in weather observation and forecasting.

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The partnership, US Ignite Partnership, is a member-funded nonprofit organization of more than 100 companies, government organizations and universities. The National Science Foundation is the lead agency for government participation. The partnership is intended to be an information clearinghouse and to provide funding and access to high-speed test beds to facilitate development of innovative technologies that will use next-generation high-speed, high-capacity networks.

The initiatives were announced June 14.

The executive order declares that “broadband access is essential to the nation's global competitiveness in the 21st century,” as well as to public safety and national security. But “while broadband infrastructure has been deployed in a vast majority of communities across the country, today too many areas still lack adequate access to this crucial resource.”

The federal government controls nearly 30 percent of U.S. land as well as thousands of buildings and provides funding for much local infrastructure. Easing access to this property could make deploying new networks faster and up to 90 percent cheaper, White House spokesman Phil Larson said in a statement.

The order creates a working group to develop a consistent approach in procedures, requirements and policies to access to federal property and lands, as well as to federally assisted highway projects. The working group will be headed by representatives of the General Services Administration and Homeland Security Department, and will include the Defense, Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, Transportation and Veterans Affairs departments, as well as the Postal Service. The Federal Communications Commission, Council on Environmental Quality, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation and the National Security Staff also will participate.

Over the next year, the group will develop a uniform plan for granting access for network installation, avoiding duplicative reviews and processes. It also will facilitate policies for building out broadband facilities in conjunction with federally assisted highway construction projects, enabling a “dig once” policy to reduce the amount of digging and disruption for installation and maintenance of network infrastructure.

US Ignite is intended to link participating organizations, communities and campuses with fast, programmable broadband services operating at speeds of up to 1 gigabit/sec. that will be a test bed for designing and deploying applications. One element of this test bed will be the Internet2 network, which provides high-speed, advanced networking capabilities to the nation’s academic and research communities.

The National Science Foundation is providing $20 million in grants for prototyping technologies, and NSF, the Energy Department and Mozilla Foundation will sponsor a $500,000 challenge to develop next-generation applications.


About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.


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