Obama includes broadband, smart grid in stimulus package

U.S. President-elect Barack Obama laid out his plan for a huge economic stimulus package, with broadband rollout, an Internet-based smart energy grid and computers for schools as part of the plan.

During his campaign, Obama included rolling out broadband, energy issues and computers for schools in his list of goals, but in Thursday's speech in Fairfax, Virginia, he called for those items to be included in a giant stimulus package he'll push Congress to pass within weeks. The stimulus package could cost close to US$1 trillion.

The president-elect called the economic situation in the U.S. a "crisis unlike any we have seen in our lifetime."

He also called for all U.S. medical records to be computerized within five years. "This will cut waste, eliminate red tape and reduce the need to repeat expensive medical tests," he said. "But it just won't save billions of dollars and thousands of jobs -- it will save lives by reducing the deadly but preventable medical errors that pervade our health care system."

Obama called on Congress to approve funding for rolling out broadband to unserved and underserved areas, although his speech did not provide details on how he wants it to happen. Several tech groups have called for a national broadband policy that would include a mixture of tax credits, loans and payments to broadband providers that bring broadband to new areas.

Part of the package should include rebuilding physical infrastructure such as roads and bridges, Obama said. "But we'll also do more to retrofit America for a global economy," he added. "That means updating the way we get our electricity by starting to build a new smart grid that will save us money, protect our power sources from blackout or attack, and deliver clean, alternative forms of energy to every corner of our nation. It means expanding broadband lines across America, so that a small business in a rural town can connect and compete with their counterparts anywhere in the world."

Smart energy grids would allow real-time monitoring of a customer's energy use through Internet technology. Proponents of a national smart grid say it would likely result in decreased electricity use, allow energy companies to more efficiently distribute electricity, and encourage homeowners to install alternative energy generators such as solar panels and sell their excess energy back to the grid.

Obama also called for Congress to approve money for "21st-century" classrooms, laboratories and libraries. "We'll provide new computers, new technology and new training for teachers so that students in Chicago and Boston can compete with kids in Beijing for the high-tech, high-wage jobs of the future," he said.

Obama's priorities line up with several tech groups that have been calling for more broadband and smart-grid funding. The Information Technology Industry Council (ITI), a trade group, praised Obama's stimulus plan. The package outlined by Obama represents an "excellent starting point," ITI President Dean Garfield said in a statement.

"Our firms know that technology investments are the quickest way to dramatically turn the economy around," he added. "Increased broadband spending, electronic medical records, green energy investments and new computers for schools and libraries are all smart ways to keep America competitive while also creating new jobs and spending."

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