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Remarks at Broadband Event with Lt. Governor Fisher, Cleveland, Ohio

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AS PREPARED FOR DELIVERY

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

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Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke
Remarks at Broadband Event with Lt. Governor Fisher
Cleveland, Ohio

Hello everybody. Thank you for having me here today.

We have been on the road for the last few hours. This morning, I was in Erie, PA with Vice President Biden and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to announce President Obama's ambitious new effort to pave the way for nationwide broadband access.

The vice president announced $7 billion in new funding. . . and almost $5 billion of that will be distributed through the Department of Commerce program.

This is a big deal and a vitally important step towards realizing President Obama’s vision of a nationwide 21st century advanced communications infrastructure.

I came here to Cleveland to talk a bit about why this initiative is so important, and how it will enrich all American’s lives – even those who don't now have much cause to use a computer.

Imagine:

  • Every kid in Cleveland being able to take online classes at MIT or access everything that Oxford University's library has to offer.
  • Imagine doctors at a Cleveland community health center safely and securely sharing the medical records of one of their patients with the world’s top diagnosticians at the Mayo Clinic or Stanford Medical Center.
  • Imagine a little shop on Euclid Avenue advertising and selling its products throughout the world.

All this is a reality for many in America, but in some rural and urban parts of the country, including communities here in Cleveland, it’s still just a dream.

But today we take a step closer. Thanks to this broadband initiative – included in President Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act – we will fund broadband projects across the country that will showcase what is possible and catalyze and accelerate investments that are sorely needed.

Our country invented the Internet. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, America was truly at the cutting edge of opening up the information superhighway.

But today, 14 other advanced economies have better broadband access than we do.

Broadband is widely available in many parts of America and virtually nonexistent in others.

For anyone who cares about America's economic competitiveness, that is simply unacceptable.

Too many communities across America are stuck with a slow and unreliable 20th Century information infrastructure that leaves them ill-equipped to compete in a global, 21st Century economy.

The Commerce Department’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program will help make 21st Century high-speed Internet service a reality for communities across the country. We will reach the last frontiers of America’s information landscape. The investments we make in places like Cleveland – will serve as a showcase for success, show what is possible, create greater demand for broadband and pave the way for private funding to follow.

We will partner with states, cities and organizations across America, to help bridge the technological divide in the places that haven’t had sufficient investment in broadband infrastructure.

This initiative will incorporate basic principles of fairness. Under this program, if a telecom company uses grant money to install broadband infrastructure – that infrastructure must be accessible to all companies who want to bring broadband services or features to their customers.

We are working to make sure that all segments of our society will benefit and participate, especially those communities that have been left behind in the past, including minorities, the aged, low income.

The money set aside for Commerce’s program will all be spent in the next two years to ensure maximum job creation, laying fiber and building the broadband network. But Commerce recognizes that expanding Internet access is a long-term project, which is why we are also setting aside $240 million to help states develop detailed maps showing where broadband service is currently available, the technology used to provide the service and the speeds of the service and also where broadband is not available.

Eventually, this will be integrated into a publicly available national map that will serve as an important resource for citizens and governments alike.

In the short term, our initiatives will help create jobs – which is the overriding goal of the Recovery Act. But it will also lay the groundwork for sustainable economic recovery by extending the information superhighway to schools, universities, libraries, community and job training centers, hospitals, public safety offices and residences across America.

Expanding broadband access to underserved communities is an issue of equality and fairness. Having access to the Internet’s economic, health and educational benefits should be as much of a fundamental American right as attending a quality school or feeling safe when you walk down the street.

We should all be able to communicate online with our children and grandchildren or access medical records from our doctors.

We don't always reach these goals, but we have to try.

Broadband access – aside from being a moral concern – is also an issue of America’s economic competitiveness. Our best minds should be able to talk to one another, create and innovate regardless of whether they hail from Silicon Valley or right here in Cleveland.

The more we connect with one another, the stronger we will all be. And I am confident the Commerce Department's Technology Opportunities program, along with the federal government's other initiatives will help us achieve that goal.