Labor, environment groups push "green" broadband

WASHINGTON Thu Mar 4, 2010 1:10pm EST

Smoke rises in the background as utility workers repair fire damaged fiber optic lines in Orange County, California, October 27, 2007. REUTERS/Phil McCarten

Smoke rises in the background as utility workers repair fire damaged fiber optic lines in Orange County, California, October 27, 2007.

Credit: Reuters/Phil McCarten

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Labor and environmental groups joined with the U.S. government on Thursday to promote high speed Internet access and related technologies to create green jobs and help lift the United States out of recession.

"In the same way that building the interstate freeway system brought the United States out of the post-World War Two recession ... a clean energy economy is exactly what we need in recession-bound America to put people back to work," said David Foster, executive director of Blue Green Alliance, an organization of unions and environmental groups.

Policies to support broadband technologies providing high-speed Internet access can reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions that spur climate change, according to a report released by the Blue Green Alliance, the Progressive States Network, the Sierra Club and the Communications Workers of America.

The report, released on Capitol Hill, maintains that changing the way people and businesses use technology can cut carbon dioxide emissions by 13 percent to 22 percent by 2020, with a potential gross energy and fuel savings of $140 billion to $240 billion.

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission also is promoting broadband as an environmental and economic tool.

"INNOVATION AND INVESTMENT"

"To unleash innovation and investment in smart homes and buildings, consumers need access to and control of their digital energy information," said Nick Sinai, energy and environment director at the FCC. "Broadband allows consumers to track and manage their energy consumption, from their home or on their smartphones."

The FCC is set to release a National Broadband Plan on March 16 to free up airwaves for mobile broadband, seek to increase universal access and adoption of broadband, and create a nationwide public safety network.

The plan will not call for spending beyond the existing programs, a commission official said on Wednesday, which likely will please lawmakers.

One key to energy savings and cuts in climate-warming carbon emissions is in a so-called smart grid to put in digital controls and high-voltage transmissions lines to carry power more cheaply from renewable energy source sites where it is generated to where it is used, the report said.

Development of renewable energy sources like solar and wind power is also expected to generate jobs that cannot be moved to other countries, the report said.

The report said the U.S. government's appropriation of $4.5 billion for smart grid technology in the economic recovery plan is a "small but positive step" but said bigger investments will be needed to modernize the current energy grid.

Broadband technologies can cut travel and fuel costs, cutting greenhouse pollution from air and ground transportation, but to get the most benefit out of this technology, the United States will need to deploy broadband on a large scale, the report said.

Some 3 million to 6 million U.S. households have no access to a broadband provider, and about one-third of U.S. households that have access do not subscribe to broadband.

(Editing by Vicki Allen)