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Obama To Unveil Expanded Broadband Initiative During Two-Day Oklahoma Visit

President Obama speaking to supporters in a pipe yard in Cushing, Okla. in 2012, where the Keystone XL Pipeline connects on its way from Canada to the Gulf Coast.
Joe Wertz
StateImpact Oklahoma
President Obama speaking to supporters in a pipe yard in Cushing, Okla. in 2012, where the Keystone XL Pipeline connects on its way from Canada to the Gulf Coast.

President Obama travels to Oklahoma Wednesday where he will announce a new initiative to expand broadband access to homes in low-income areas.

The president will make the announcement at Durant High School in the capital of the Choctaw Nation in southeastern Oklahoma.

Obama’s ConnectHome initiative will expand broadband coverage to 275,000 low income households in 27 cities and the Choctaw Nation. The White House estimates it’ll bring broadband into the homes of nearly 200,000 low income children.

The president’s goal is to bridge the so-called “homework gap” --- too many children in poverty-stricken areas don’t have internet access outside of school, so they can’t research, do homework or communicate through email at home like their middle-class peers.

The program will work with internet providers to offer free or discounted service to families in public and assisted housing in selected communities.

It’s not the first time Obama has spoken about efforts in broadband. During his 2015 State of the Union address, the president said he intends to protect a free and open Internet and extend its reach into every classroom and communities.

“I want Americans to win the race for the kinds of discoveries that unleash new jobs -- converting sunlight into liquid fuel; creating revolutionary prosthetics, so that a veteran who gave his arms for his country can play catch with his kids again,” Obama said. “Pushing out into the solar system not just to visit, but to stay.”

In January, Obama visited Iowa to encourage the Federal Communications Commission to tear down barriers that keep local municipalities from building and increasing their own broadband networks, according toThe Hill’sMario Trujillo:

Advocates say municipal broadband networks generate public benefits and are often put in place after traditional cable companies skip out on investment. But critics have said the locally owned networks have an unfair advantage and 19 states have limited municipal build-out. . . . The National Cable and Telecommunications Association said there are a few areas in particular where government intervention would be welcome to increase broadband access — including in rural and low-income communities. But the trade group also took the opportunity to level criticism at Obama’s call for the FCC to reclassify broadband Internet as a public utility. The group said the plan would slow the build-out of faster broadband. "The president has made his views clear on net neutrality and that is now part of the FCC process," [National Economic Council director Jeff] Zients said. "And we continue to believe that broadband companies will continue to invest in improving their services."

Obama will also speak to members of the Choctaw Nation about expanding economic opportunities. Last year, the president named the Choctaw Nation as one of the first “promise zones” --- high poverty areas that are eligible for federal support for locally developed anti-poverty plans.

On Thursday, the president plans to meet with law enforcement officials and inmates at the El Reno Federal Correctional Institution, and conduct an interview for a Vice documentary about the criminal justice system, something he addressed Tuesday at the NAACP convention in Philadelphia.

“Since my first campaign I’ve talked about how, in too many cases, our criminal justice system ends up being a pipeline from underfunded, inadequate schools to overcrowded jails,” Obama said.

Earlier this week President Obama cut the prison sentences of 46 convicts as part of a broader effort to make the criminal justice system fairer and ease the punishment of those serving more time than their crimes warranted.

The president has now issued nearly 90 commutations, most of them to non-violent offenders sentenced for drug crimes under outdated sentencing rules.

A commutation leaves the conviction in place, but ends the punishment. Several of those granted clemency Monday had been sentenced to life in prison.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

KGOU is a community-supported news organization and relies on contributions from readers and listeners to fulfill its mission of public service to Oklahoma and beyond. Donate online, or by contacting our Membership department.

Brian Hardzinski is from Flower Mound, Texas and a graduate of the University of Oklahoma. He began his career at KGOU as a student intern, joining KGOU full time in 2009 as Operations and Public Service Announcement Director. He began regularly hosting Morning Edition in 2014, and became the station's first Digital News Editor in 2015-16. Brian’s work at KGOU has been honored by Public Radio News Directors Incorporated (PRNDI), the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters, the Oklahoma Associated Press Broadcasters, and local and regional chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists. Brian enjoys competing in triathlons, distance running, playing tennis, and entertaining his rambunctious Boston Terrier, Bucky.
Jacob McCleland spent nine years as a reporter and host at public radio station KRCU in Cape Girardeau, Mo. His stories have appeared on NPR’s Morning Edition and All Things Considered, Here & Now, Harvest Public Media and PRI’s The World. Jacob has reported on floods, disappearing languages, crop duster pilots, anvil shooters, Manuel Noriega, mule jumps and more.
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