US CEOs: Broadband is national priority

High-tech CEOs are urging the Bush administration and congressional leadership to make broadband deployment a national priority, worthy of the same attention President Eisenhower gave the interstate highway system.

          High-tech CEOs are urging the Bush administration and congressional leadership to make broadband deployment a national priority, worthy of the same attention President Eisenhower gave the interstate highway system.

          "This is important to all industries," says Lars Nyberg, CEO of NCR in Dayton, Ohio.

          "This technology will give every industry the opportunity to fundamentally change the way they operate with substantial productivity and efficiency improvements."

          Nyberg, Dell chairman and CEO Michael Dell, Intel CEO Craig Barrett and Motorola CEO Christopher Galvin, released a report last week that set specific deployment goals.

          But the proponents of this plan haven't shared a lot of details about its potential cost. And they have avoided making specific recommendations on some of the more pressing broadband issues in Congress, such as the Tauzin-Dingell Broadband Bill, sponsored by US Representatives WJ Tauzin (Republican - Louisiana) and John D Dingell (Democrat - Michigan). That bill would end line-sharing restrictions now imposed on Baby Bells, the companies formed from the breakup of AT&T.

          Instead, high-tech groups are urging the White House and congressional leaders to first make broadband a national priority and work with industry to iron out the details.

          Bernard Campbell, CIO at Sonoco Products in Hartsville, South Carolina, says he can see the potential benefits of ubiquitous broadband access, but he's wary of the cost. Telecommuters at his $US2.7 billion packaging company use existing services and get "a fair amount of productivity," he says. But without a cost/benefit analysis of the high-tech plan, he says, it's difficult to assess its merit.

          Prepared by the Computer Systems Policy Project, a Washington-based organisation representing high-tech CEOs, the report released last week said the country's economic expansion is dependent on broadband deployment. It recommended that by the end of 2003, 80% of US homes should be able to get data at 1.5M bit/s, and 50% of the nation's homes should be able to receive data at 6Mbit/s. The group also called for nationwide 100Mbit/s access by the end of the decade.

          Broadband would likely help Columbia House, a New York-based seller of music and movie recordings, by encouraging more people to use the internet.

          "It would make it more efficient," says David Woltmann, who runs the company's financial systems. Woltmann believes a lot of home users are discouraged by slow connection speeds.

          A national broadband push would be of particular benefit to telecommunications firms.

          "The telecom industry is in a severe depression, and what they are trying to do is jump-start their way out, while at the same time solving the overall major economic malaise," says Danny Briere, CEO of TeleChoice, a Tulsa, Oklahoma-based consulting firm. "A major broadband programme is a great way to do that."

          But Briere questioned the need for 100Mbit/s service. He said a 1.5Mbit/s connection in every home would do "more for the economy near-term than 100Mbit/s is going to do over a 10-year period."

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