Obama and the broadband set … so happy together

Barack Obama again reminded the progressive tech-policy set of why they have embraced him as their patron saint with his weekly radio address (embedded below) over the weekend.

The subject of his address, like much of the talk in these gloomy pre-holiday weeks, was the economy. Obama announced several planks of his economic agenda aimed at saving or creating 2.5 million jobs, following a woeful November in which 533,000 positions were eliminated.

Obama vowed to make “the single largest new investment in our national infrastructure since the creation of the federal highway system in the 1950s,” including clean-tech efforts to make government buildings more energy-efficient, modernizing the schools and shoring up the nation’s roads and bridges.

But for the tech advocates, here’s the takeaway:

“As we renew our schools and highways, we’ll also renew our information superhighway.
It is unacceptable the Untied States ranks 15th in the world in broadband adoption,” Obama said, referring to an international report issued last year by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

“Here in the country that invented the Internet, every child should have the chance to get online, and they’ll get that chance when I’m president, because that’s how we’ll strengthen America’s competitiveness in the world.”

So with Obama pledging more computers in classrooms, streamlining the healthcare system using e-records and spurring action on what so far has been a meandering quest for nationwide broadband, it came as little surprise that some of the groups long championing universal broadband took the opportunity to glom on a little bit.

Josh Silver, executive director of Free Press: “We applaud President-elect Barack Obama’s commitment to investing in Internet for everyone as a starting point for economic recovery.”

Fair enough. Broadband would indeed be one of the impetuses for reshaping the economy under the plan Obama outlined on Saturday. And we can even forgive Silver for indulging in a little self-promotion, given that “Internet for Everyone” happens to be the moniker of an initiative Free Press is leading, aimed at driving awareness and advocating for universal broadband.

Less convincing: a note from M2Z Networks headed, “Obama Adopts M2Z Plan, Promises 100% Broadband Availability.” M2Z is a Silicon Valley startup that is pressing the Federal Communications Commission to approve a plan to auction a portion of the wireless spectrum to create a near-universal broadband network which would include a free-service provision. If M2Z gets its way, wins the auction and fulfills the deployment requirements, 95 percent of Americans would have access to a free Internet service with connection speeds roughly equivalent to baseline DSL.

Only thing is, Obama didn’t say he supported M2Z’s plan. Calling for investment in broadband is a far cry from championing a specific (and highly controversial) scheme that skeptics say will almost certainly fall short of its promise while selling the spectrum at sub-market value.

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