Delivering high-speed Net access to all Americans within five years was among a medley of priorities outlined by the U.S. House of Representatives' Democratic leader on Tuesday.
"Universal broadband--whether it's delivered by Wi-Fi or WiMax, or hard line--will put all Americans, no matter where they live, no more than a keystroke or a mouse click away from the jobs and opportunity broadband both creates and supports," Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California said in prepared remarks for a morning appearance at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.
The suggestion mirrors a proposal by President Bush last year but appears to be more modest. The president clamored for a deregulatory approach that would grant broadband access to "every corner" of America by 2007.
Among other goals Pelosi presented: granting scholarships aimed at producing 100,000 new scientists, mathematicians and engineers in the next four years; doubling research and development spending, and boosting tax incentives; seeking alternative-energy sources that lessen the nation's reliance on Middle East oil; and providing assistance to small businesses (PDF here).
If Congress doesn't act soon, other countries following the U.S.
"blueprint" for technological pre-eminence will get further ahead, she said. This year, she noted, 70,000 engineers will graduate from U.S. institutions, while India and China will produce 350,000 and 700,000 engineers, respectively.
It didn't take long for the announcement to transform into a political football, as House Republicans speedily pounced on the plan. House Speaker Dennis Hastert issued a statement warning that the Democrats' plan would inevitably lead to "more taxation, litigation and regulation."
Hastert also accused Democratic leaders of voting against several pieces of legislation considered important to tech interests.
It was unclear on Tuesday how the Democrats' plans would be financed or when they might be introduced in Congress. Pelosi remarked in her speech, "we intend to submit them to the rigors of pay-as-you-go budgeting, so they will not add to the deficit but instead will grow our economy."
Partisan politics aside, trade associations representing big technology companies were quick to praise the announcement.
"We support any effort in Congress--by either political party--to ensure continued investment in innovation for the future," Robert Holleyman, CEO of the Business Software Alliance, which represents industry bigwigs like Apple Computer, Cisco Systems, Intel and Microsoft, said in a statement.
Pelosi said she and her colleagues gleaned ideas for their agenda from recent trips across the country to meet with academics, venture capitalists and entrepreneurs from the high-tech, biotech and telecommunications realms.
Tech company executives have lamented what they have described as a declining U.S. educational system and a shortage of skilled U.S.-born workers. But the nation still retains the top spot in some areas of global competitiveness--namely the supercomputer realm.