Government Technology

At Issue: US Ignite Draws Cheers and Jeers

June 18, 2012 By

Last week President Barack Obama announced two initiatives designed to assist deployment of broadband infrastructure.

A presidential executive order, called "Accelerating Broadband Infrastructure Deployment," is intended to simplify and streamline access to federal property and rights of way for wired and wireless broadband. The executive order creates a “Broadband Deployment on Federal Property Working Group,” to be chaired by the GSA and Department of Homeland Security, with members from 11 other federal agencies. The working group will report in one year on permitting and process improvements.

Another broadband initiative, a public-private partnership called US Ignite, was launched. According to the Obama administration it “will foster the creation of novel applications and digital experiences that will transform health care, education and job skills training, public safety, energy and advanced manufacturing.” These new applications will be designed to take advantage of ultra-fast, experimental networks.

But do thought leaders think the push will work? Like almost anything, opinion is varied.

Commenting on the US Ignite initiative, PC Magazine’s Sascha Segan, however, said it fails to address the problem of slow and expensive last-mile connectivity and instead focuses on backbone improvements between cities and universities.

Fresno, Calif., CIO Carolyn Hogg, who is co-chair of a federal “Strong Cities, Strong Communities” project in California’s Central Valley, is enthusiastic about the administrations’ broadband push. “This initiative is exactly what the San Joaquin Valley is looking for,” she said, “and is actively pursuing with our regional partners that will bring together multiple benefits in the forgotten rural area to transform our agriculture, telehealth and distance learning technology.”

[Watch the press conference announcing US Ignite and see what people are saying on social media about Obama’s newest broadband initiatives on GovTech’s Storify page.]

U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), commenting on his website about the executive order, said in part: “This new Executive Order will ensure that agencies charged with managing federal properties and roads take specific steps to adopt a uniform approach for allowing broadband carriers to build networks on and through those assets to speed the delivery of connectivity to communities, businesses and schools.”

Congresswoman Anna Eschoo, (D-Calif.), in a release said that “The Executive Order includes a requirement for the Department of Transportation (DOT) to provide guidance to states and encourage their implementation of a "dig once" policy. Adoption of the policy by the DOT would encourage the inclusion of "broadband conduit"—plastic pipes that house fiber-optic communications cable—during the construction of federal highways. The Federal Highway Administration estimates it is 10 times more expensive to dig up and then repair an existing road to lay fiber, than to dig a channel for it when the road is being built or repaired.”

At Issue: Is Obama’s executive order and US Ignite a case of election year grandstanding, or is it a significant step forward for needed broadband infrastructure?

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