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Bush Calls for Universal Broadband by 2007

President Bush has set a goal of broadband access for all Americans in three years to boost competitiveness with other nations and create new business opportunities at home.

"We ought to have a universal, affordable access for broadband technology by the year 2007, and then we ought to make sure as soon as possible thereafter, consumers have got plenty of choices when it comes to purchasing the broadband carrier," Bush said during a recent campaign swing through the Southwest.

In addition to economic advantages of broadband, Bush said the technology could advance tele-medicine and distance learning.

For years, IT firms pushed plans to deliver high-speed Internet access rural areas not served by cable of digital subscriber line service, only to stumble in a thicket of questions, such as who would pay for the extension of infrastructure into rural areas?

Bush didn't raise the issue in his speech and an administration spokesman did not return a call seeking additional details.

"I think this is the first time someone in a position of authority has given a specific date as far as when broadband should be deployed and that's probably a good thing," said Joe Laszlo, a Jupiter Research analyst. (Jupiter Research and this publication share a parent company). "But we're a long way from determining what he means. Is it broadband availability or a broadband line in every home?"

Laszlo said he was pleased that Bush mentioned choice for consumers, an implication that there will be more than one provider and delivery method.

A recent Jupiter Research study reported that as of the end of 2003, 21.5 million households, or about one-fifth of U.S. households, are connected to the Internet via broadband.

Jupiter Research has also forecast that by 2008, 46 million households -- representing half of online households and 40 percent of all U.S. households -- will connect via high-speed, always-on technologies.

Lawmakers have long suggested offering tax credits for rural broadband providers as a way to entice new connections in rural areas where the prospects for profits on investments is slim. Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, the likely Democratic presidential nominee, has done so too. According to his campaign Web site, Kerry has called for tax credits to speed broadband deployment. Kerry's plan does not set a timeline for national coverage, however.

Soon after the speech, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael K. Power issued a statement supporting the president's goal and pledging cooperation with the White House and Congress to meet it. But the statement did not mention methods.

The FCC has identified rural broadband access as a policy concern and has taken steps to craft policy that will encourage alternate forms of broadband delivery, such as broadband over powerlines (BPL). Some communications providers, including EarthLink and AT&T , have made some tentative steps into the space.

IT heavyweights including Cisco and BellSouth , which in theory, could gain from wider broadband rollouts, also voiced general support for the president's goal.

Kim Gibbons, a spokeswoman for San Jose, Calif.-based Cisco, characterized the president's timeline as "aggressive" but "a good goal." The government must evaluate regulatory policy, technologies and marketing strategies as part of the effort, she said.

Cisco is willing to work with the White House; however Gibbons said she's unaware of any meetings scheduled with policy makers.

In his remarks, Bush also criticized some lawmakers for attempting to block a bill that makes the ban on Internet access taxes permanent.

"We don't need to tax access to broadband," Bush said. "The Congress must not tax access to broadband technology if we want to spread it around."