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U.S. Broadband Policy Working Just Fine, Policy Wonk Says

Contrary to popular belief, the United States does have a coherent broadband policy, according to the administration's top telecom administrator.
ASPEN, Colo. -- Contrary to popular belief, the United States does have a coherent broadband policy and it is working, according to NTIA administrator Michael Gallagher.

In both a panel discussion and follow-on interviews Tuesday here at the Progress & Freedom Foundation’s Aspen Summit, Gallagher defended the Bush administration’s strategies and efforts to promote the growth of broadband services, actions that were under general assault from a number of speakers at the gathering.

One of the most direct criticisms came from Nortel CEO Bill Owens, who told the audience in his Tuesday morning keynote that he didn’t see much in the telecom vision-thing from the current administration.

“I do believe we need a higher [telecom] vision for America,” said Owens, who held up the high-speed broadband deployments in countries like Korea and India as examples of forward-thinking vision in action. “Where is our equivalent vision, as a nation?” asked Owens, a U.S. citizen who leads Nortel, which is headquarted in Canada (Brampton, Ontario).

Gallagher, who at the National Telecommunications and Information Association is the Bush administration’s point man on matters telecom, took issue with Owens’ claims and similar charges leveled by some other speakers at this telecom-policy event (many of who cited the U.S. standings in worldwide broadband deployment figures as part of their criticisms).

“I totally disagree with him [Owens],” Gallagher said, in an interview following his own panel discussion, which centered on wireless spectrum policy reform. “The President set a goal of affordable, universally available broadband by 2007, and we’re sticking to it. We are creating the environment to unleash all these forces, and it’s happening.”

One of the examples Gallagher cited as proof of the administration’s actions is the pending auction of 90 Mhz of spectrum for advanced wireless services, something that could happen as soon as next summer. The NTIA has also enacted other policies to help make more efficient use of radio spectrum, a technology area where many expect the next wave of telecom growth to come from.

“We have a national policy -- the President said it, so it is policy,” Gallagher said during the panel discussion. “It’s broadband by 2007, and you’re seeing it in practice in our economy, right now. You’re seeing it in WiMAX, with the investments made by Intel. You’re seeing Clearwire take a chance on unproven technology. We see it through broadband over power lines. There is policy, it’s clear, and it is working.”

Still, others at the conference were more guarded in their evaluations of the administration’s efforts. When asked to grade the country’s spectrum-reform efforts, Gallagher’s fellow panelists gave marks of “C-minus,” “incomplete,” and “B-plus,” the latter with a caveat from Thomas Sugrue, vice president for government affairs at wireless provider T-Mobile’s U.S. operations.

“If we come back here next summer and the auction [of the advanced wireless services spectrum] has taken place, and there’s a DTV transition hard date, I’ll give them an A-plus,” Sugrue said.

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