Science

U.S. government urged to expand broadband access

One of the internet's founding fathers and a commissioner on the Federal Communications Commission joined forces Tuesday in renewing calls for the U.S. government to more actively expand broadband service.

One of the internet's founding fathers and a commissioner on the Federal Communications Commission joined forces Tuesday in renewing calls for the U.S. government to more actively expand broadband service.

They and other members of a new coalition promised hearings across the country and set up a website at InternetForEveryone.org to outline principles such as universal access and competition to ensure lower prices and faster internet connection speeds.

But the group offered few specifics, including any proposed legislation. Josh Silver, executive director of the Free Press advocacy group, said that given the complexities of broadband policy, the new coalition was focusing instead on raising awareness and establishing ideas for the next administration to consider.

By some measures, the United States lags behind South Korea and other nations in high-speed access despite being the internet's birthplace. In many rural areas, broadband services aren't available at all or come from a single provider.

Vint Cerf, a Google Inc. executive who co-developed the internet's core communications protocols in the 1970s, said a nudge from the government is crucial.

Jonathan Adelstein, one of two Democrats on the five-member FCC, said the coalition is hoping to mobilize the public to force his fellow policy-makers to act.

Otherwise, he said, many Americans will be denied opportunities to remotely attend classes at a distant universities, or access resources at larger libraries and museums. Doctors won't be able to confer with specialists over the internet, and employees won't be able to save energy by telecommuting, he said.

Other members of the coalition include leading internet scholars Lawrence Lessig and Jonathan Zittrain; Michael Winship, president of the Writers Guild of America-East, which recently battled Hollywood over online rights; and Robin Chase, co-founder of the Zipcar automobile-rental service.

A similar movement is gaining steam in Canada, where a number of telecommunications industry groups and watchers have called on the government to get involved in broadband deployment.

Telecommunications consultant Mark Goldberg, organizer of the annual Canadian Telecom Summit in Toronto, and University of Ottawa internet law professor Michael Geist have both called on the government to use proceeds from its auction of cellphone airwaves, currently in its late stages, to subsidize broadband access for low-income families.

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