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Bush to Push High-Speed Internet Access Agenda

Bush to Push High-Speed Internet Access Agenda
WASHINGTON - President Bush will call for making high-speed Internet access more affordable and stepping up hydrogen fuel cell research.

After a week focused on environmental policy, Bush will use a speech in Minneapolis to promote his high-tech agenda, including plans to provide universal access to high-speed Internet, known as broadband, by 2007.

He will order federal agencies to make it easier for companies to deploy the service and he will prod Congress to make access to broadband permanently tax-free - reaching out to Internet-savvy voters, a group sought after by Democratic presidential rival Sen. John Kerry.

Bush will also tout new hydrogen fuel cell technology as a way to reduce the country\'s dependence on foreign oil. Bush has been under fire from Kerry for not taking a tougher stand against OPEC oil producers to help reduce gasoline price.

\"Broadband technology will enhance our nation\'s economic competitiveness and will help improve education and health care for all Americans,\" the White House said in a statement previewing Bush\'s speech to the American Association of Community Colleges annual convention in Minneapolis.

His speech coincides with the start of debate in the U.S. Senate over whether to renew or make permanent a ban that bars state and local governments from imposing taxes on Internet access. While the previous ban expired in November, so far no state has moved to tax access.

Kerry\'s campaign immediately attacked Bush for not making the tax ban a part of earlier tax cut packages he offered and the lawmaker pushed a bill already pending in Congress aimed at helping deploy broadband to underserved areas.

\"The Bush broadband policies don\'t do anything to provide the new resources that will be needed to deploy broadband in rural and urban areas and they are not addressing the regulatory barriers that prevent deployment,\" said Stephanie Cutter, a spokeswoman for the Kerry campaign.

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John McCain has proposed extending the ban for four more years but also to ensure that states could tax Internet-based telephone service.

Lawmakers are split on whether a ban would boost innovation and the roll-out of new technologies or instead deprive states and local governments of much needed revenue. Companies are pushing for as few rules and taxes as possible.

Already there are some 23.5 million high-speed Internet lines in service as of June 30, 2003, most of which serve American homes and small businesses, according to the latest government data available.

Monday, Bush will sign an order directing federal agencies to make it easier for broadband companies to use federal lands to broaden the nation\'s broadband infrastructure, the White House said. Telephone carriers want the government to ease regulations on their service so they can roll it out more quickly without worries that they may have to share their networks with rivals as they have for traditional telephone service.

About 13.7 million consumers receive their service from cable companies, which can cost at least $40 a month, while 7.7 million customers get broadband from telephone carriers via digital subscriber lines (DSL) and pay about $30 per month.

The Federal Communications Commission has tried to reduce regulations on broadband but with mixed success.

Bush will also tout new government partners for hydrogen research projects worth $350 million as part of a five-year, $1.2 billion research initiative aimed at reducing dependence on foreign oil and putting fuel cell cars on the road by 2020.

He has sought a 43 percent increase in federal spending to develop fuel cell cars and related service stations.

Story by Jeremy Pelofsky

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