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More-Engaging Online Content Urged

September 24, 2002|JUBE SHIVER Jr. | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — A White House panel studying ways to boost demand for high-speed Internet access is expected next week to encourage Hollywood and others to offer more online content. The report also will recommend that more workers use high-speed lines to telecommute from home.

After intense lobbying by industry groups, the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology sidestepped calls for an overhaul of the nation's telecommunications networks, such as backing the regional Bell phone companies' bid to scale back laws that regulate their ability to compete in the market for high-speed Internet access, or broadband.

Instead, the blue-ribbon panel of industry executives and academics hopes to encourage the development of more online entertainment, as well as online government and educational services, as a way to lure more of the 70 million Americans now online to upgrade to broadband, which is four to 30 times faster than a standard dial-up modem.

"We think this report will be a very significant move forward," said Claudia Jones, a spokeswoman for AT&T Corp., which has been following the issue closely.

A spokeswoman for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy declined to comment on the report.

The Bush administration has been under pressure from Silicon Valley to implement tax incentives and change the rules governing the phone and cable TV industries to help boost the number of high-speed Internet connections amid an industrywide financial meltdown.

Only about 10 million homes have high-speed Internet access, which is more complex to install and twice as costly as traditional dial-up Internet access.

Many consumers see no compelling reason to pay extra for broadband, according to a study released Monday by the Commerce Department. The average $40 to $50 monthly fee for broadband is cited by many consumers as the main reason they aren't upgrading to faster access, the Commerce Department said.

Three industry sources who have seen draft copies of the president's council report said the group generally recommends a laissez-faire and low-key approach to broadband.

Besides supporting the development of more content, the report is expected to call for more research and development of high-speed technologies, including wireless data networks. The report also will recommend the government use its clout as a big purchaser of technology to promote online services that could benefit from a fast Internet connection, such as distance learning and telemedicine.

In calling for more engaging content, the report could put the White House at odds with Hollywood and other powerful forces seeking greater government protection for creative works online.

Although government has little broadband content to offer, a report to be released today by a unit of the Progressive Policy Institute suggests one novel approach: encourage the nation's public broadcasting stations to put their television shows online.

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