Obama said that broadband investment could also help modernize health care systems, through sharing and storing medical information and health records online, enabling doctors to offer care more efficiently.
"We will make sure that every doctor's office and hospital in this country is using cutting edge technology and electronic medical records so that we can cut red tape, prevent medical mistakes, and help save billions of dollars each year," Obama said.
Media action groups such as Free Press commended Obama's proposals, but said more work needed to be done to bridge "the digital divide."
"In our 21st-century society, having a connection to a fast and affordable Internet is no longer a luxury — it's a public necessity," said Free Press' executive director Josh Silver. "Obama's broadband stimulus must deliver Americans the infrastructure they need for economic growth and social opportunity."
Advocates have been pushing broadband investment not only as an economic driver in its own right, but as a means to aiding other crises. App-Rising.com's Geoff Daily urged the Obama administration to pursue an aggressive strategy of broadband investment and expansion, especially for rural communities that lack high-speed Internet access.
"If we don't step up and do something big, we may not have a rural America in 10 or 20 years," Daily said. "If we take the initiative to wire them for the 21st century infrastructure, they can not only survive, they can thrive."
Many groups have been offering policy papers and plans for how best to implement a nationwide broadband investment program. Free Press' "2009 Media & Tech Priorities" plan emphasizes reform of the government agencies tasked to handle Internet issues, including the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the National Telecommunication & Information Administration (NTIA).
Free Press also recommended reforming the Universal Service Fund to subsidize broadband access in rural areas.
The Benton Foundation offered "A Broadband Action Plan for America" on December 1. The Foundation advocates implementing plans to get every American access to "affordable, robust broadband" by 2010, through tactics such as funding or co-funding state and local initiatives, better broadband data mapping, and opening unused wireless spectrum for use by communications companies to create new paths to Internet access.
"Unless our nation quickly answers this serious challenge, America will continue to export economic growth and good-paying 'knowledge worker' jobs overseas to its better-connected, lower-wage competitors," said foundation head Charles Benton. "Our citizens will continue to be denied the benefits of broadband already being enjoyed by citizens of other nations in job creation and economic development, in health care and education, in public safety and security, energy conservation and reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and more."
Obama did not specify the cost of the public works program, but various analysts' costs estimates place it from $400 to $700 billion, and possibly higher.
But broadband advocates such as Daily say plans such as his "Rural Fiber Fund" would enable expansion of broadband Internet access for a small fraction of the total cost.
"$30 billion should get the whole job done," Daily said. "But $10 billion is enough to be a game-changer and set the wheels in motion."