Obama promotes Internet to infrastructure, skips community broadband details

21 January 2015 by Steve Blum
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Some Christmas trees actually have fiber.

The five point plan to promote community broadband announced by U.S. president Barack Obama last week was billed as a prelude to last night’s state of the union address. But he didn’t specifically mention it.

More importantly though, what Obama did in his speech is lump broadband in with traditional infrastructure projects…

Twenty-first century businesses need 21st century infrastructure — modern ports, and stronger bridges, faster trains and the fastest Internet. Democrats and Republicans used to agree on this. So let’s set our sights higher than a single oil pipeline. Let’s pass a bipartisan infrastructure plan that could create more than 30 times as many jobs per year, and make this country stronger for decades to come. Let’s do it. Let’s get it done. Let’s get it done.

It appears there’s still some measure of agreement between republicans and democrats on building infrastructure, because both applauded. A few minutes later, he said a bit more…

I intend to protect a free and open Internet, extend its reach to every classroom, and every community and help folks build the fastest networks so that the next generation of digital innovators and entrepreneurs have the platform to keep reshaping our world.

So you could read that as pledging to move ahead on last week’s promises, or as a reiteration of the earlier infrastructure reference or – my take – as both and whatever else you might want under the Christmas policy tree. Including net neutrality, common carrier regulation, e-rate funding, and the list goes on.

I don’t doubt that the five point plan will happen: the agriculture department will implement the farm bill broadband programs approved last year, NTIA posted a helpful booklet on community broadband, the FCC has Obama’s back on state law pre-emption, federal agencies will always send representatives to a pow wow, particularly if lunch is involved, and a couple busloads of mayors and county supervisors will have no trouble getting into the White House for a meeting. If nothing else, they can just jump a fence and run in.

So the real question is whether congress will approve infrastructure funding that includes broadband projects. If such a proposal gets tangled up in the Keystone pipeline fight – that’s what Obama was alluding to – then all bets are off. But if not, then there’s a plausible chance it could happen: pork is reliably bipartisan.