Obama's Democracy Stimulus

Building better broadband is not a bailout. It's afor better democracy.
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President-elect Barack Obama on Thursday delivered his first major speech of the new year, pledging to "put the American Dream within reach of the American people."

A core component of Obama's economic recovery plan is "expanding broadband lines across America" to give everyone the chance to get online.

Historically, presidents have turned to public works projects to jolt new life into flagging economies: Lincoln promoted the railroads; Roosevelt erected dams and strung power lines; Eisenhower built the Interstate highways.

The construction alone put thousands to work. And better infrastructure pumped new energy into the private sector, creating many more jobs and countless long-term economic benefits.

Internet is the infrastructure of our time, so it makes sense for Obama to turn special attention to improving this essential technology.

According to a 2007 study by the Brookings Institution, boosting U.S. broadband adoption by 20 percent -- putting America on par with a country like Denmark -- would create 3 million new jobs. But it doesn't end there.

Building better broadband is not a bailout. It's a buildout for better democracy.

Economic crisis or not, connecting everyone to a fast, open and affordable Internet will better our democracy as a whole. It's something we should have done well before mortgage bankers drove our economy off a cliff, well before the country
in the world in broadband adoption. And it's something we should continue to prioritize well after this crisis is over.

Millions of people trapped on the wrong side of the digital divide are being deprived of a better education, good jobs and full participation in our democracy.

Obama's "American Dream" is a matter not only of enrichment but of engagement.

Last year, millions of people joined social networks, e-mail lists, online fundraisers and forums to support their favorite candidates and topple politics as usual in Washington. Even if you didn't vote for Obama, the Internet organizing that paved his way to the White House has transformed 21st-century politics.

This Internet movement doesn't end for Obama at the doorstep of the White House. As president, Obama needs to roll up his sleeves and work with all of us to ensure that every American has access to a fast, open and affordable Internet.

My colleague S. Derek Turner has created a detailed plan to use $44 billion in broadband stimulus spending that will help us get there. That's the "how." The "why" is really what's most important about this work.

In 2008, the Internet opened the door to a new kind of political power, one that's more diverse, grassroots and decentralized. In 2009, it's time we put that power in the hands of every American.

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