Obama order targets cost of broadband deployment

The White House will also help launch a new initiative to develop applications for ultra-high-speed broadband

U.S. President Barack Obama will sign an executive order Thursday intended to make it less expensive for broadband providers to install lines and equipment on federal lands and also federal roads.

The executive order, announced by the White House Wednesday, will require federal agencies to adopt uniform rules for allowing broadband carriers to build networks on and through federal property, and it requires the U.S. Department of Transportation to help carriers time their broadband deployments at the same time that streets are under construction.

This so-called "dig once" order could make broadband construction on federal lands up to 90 percent cheaper, said Tom Kalil, deputy director for policy at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

"Building a nationwide broadband network will strengthen our economy and put more Americans back to work," Obama said in a statement. "By connecting every corner of our country to the digital age, we can help our businesses become more competitive, our students become more informed and our citizens become more engaged."

Obama's order also requires agencies to list available properties for broadband deployment on their websites.

The White House also announced that nearly 100 partners, including cities, businesses and nonprofit groups, have joined 60 universities to form a new partnership to focus on building new services that take advantage of high-speed broadband services up to 100 times faster than today's Internet. The US Ignite program will bring software developers from government and industry together with representatives of communities, schools, hospitals and other organizations to work on new broadband-based applications, the White House said.

"This is a great example of what the president calls, 'all hands on deck,'" Kalil said during a press briefing.

The applications will include advanced manufacturing, medical monitoring, emergency preparedness and other services, the White House said. The new applications "will increase the demand for the Internet of the future in the same way that email and the World Wide Web drove demand for today's Internet," Kalil said.

As part of US Ignite, the Mott Foundation and other nonprofits are working on new community programs, such as hack days and startup weekends, in an effort to accelerate the development of new broadband apps.

In addition, the U.S. National Science Foundation is committing US$20 million toward technologies that help develop ultra-high-speed, programmable broadband networks. The NSF and Mozilla Foundation, with support from the U.S. Department of Energy, are announcing a $500,000 application design competition.

Verizon Communications will launch an ultra-high-speed broadband test bed in Philadelphia as part of US Ignite, said Kathy Brown, the carrier's senior vice president for public policy development and corporate responsibility. The 200-user broadband test bed will target medical practices, architects and other businesses that want to experiment with ultra-high-speed broadband, she said.

US Ignite will "put a spotlight on what is a real, live test bed," Brown said. "We do these things in the labs, but here we have real folks -- real entrepreneurs, real institutions -- who will start to experiment with things that are on the drawing board."

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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