April 26, 2004 2:04 PM PDT

Bush: Broadband for the people by 2007

In a rare foray into technology topics, President Bush has lent his support to a broad set of proposals that include a deregulatory approach to wiring America with fast Internet connections.

In a speech in Minneapolis on Monday, Bush said "every corner" of the United States should be in reach of high-speed Internet links by 2007. Broadband connectivity guarantees "that we have access to the information that is transforming our economy," he told the annual gathering of the American Association of Community Colleges.

To make that happen, Bush on Monday ordered federal agencies to streamline the process of granting broadband providers access to federal land. The White House stressed in a fact sheet that Bush was backing the Federal Communications Commission's efforts to deregulate fiber-optic connections, as well as the U.S. Department of Commerce's development of specifications for broadband over power lines and a Senate proposal to curb taxes on Internet access.

Bush's proposal is both incremental and deregulatory. It touts the introduction of low taxes, more available spectrum and limited regulation as the way to encourage private companies to bring broadband to the shrinking number of Americans who do not have it. A survey released last week by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that approximately 55 percent of Net-using Americans enjoyed a broadband connection at home or work.

The Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, is expected to release his own proposals on broadband and other technology themes in the next few weeks. Reed Hundt, a Kerry advisor, said this month that the Democrat is likely to take a more regulatory approach: Defining broadband as a new category of universal service, which could result in city dwellers paying higher monthly phone bills to subsidize rural and low-income broadband customers.

Adam Thierer, a telecommunications analyst at the free-market Cato Institute in Washington, D.C., said he wasn't sure why it took Bush nearly four years to gather his thoughts on broadband. "I guess better late than never is the theme here, although one wonders why it took him this long to get more specific."

Thierer said that while it was noteworthy that Bush singled out powerline broadband, details about what to do with the regulation of DSL (digital subscriber line), cable and satellite Internet access were absent. "Why not say anything about the current broadband providers and the regulatory burdens they already face? He's getting specific about an emerging broadband technology, but not (about) current ones."

Medical information technology
In addition, Bush called for a government program to create national standards that would enable medical information to be digitized, stored and shared electronically.

"Within 10 years, every American must have a personal electronic medical record," Bush said. "That's a good goal for the country to achieve. The federal government has got to take the lead in order to make this happen, by developing what's called 'technical standards.'"

The White House fact sheet said the plan would include "electronic prescriptions" that would be sent to pharmacists and supplant handwritten ones. It also noted the president would order federal programs--such as Medicare, Medicaid and Veterans medical care--to move toward electronic record-keeping.

Privacy and security guidelines would be incorporated into those standards, Bush said. "Patients will have control over their privacy. I fully understand there's an issue of privacy. And the people who ought to determine the extent of privacy--their privacy, of course--is the patient, the consumer."

On Monday, the U.S. Department of Energy said it had chosen recipients for $350 million of research grants into hydrogen fuel cells. "They're encouraging the construction of hydrogen refueling stations around the country," Bush said. "We're beginning to change behavior. And they're helping scientists develop hydrogen fuel cells that can be used in heavy trucks and farm equipment and other industrialized vehicles."

 

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