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Bush makes unusual pitch for affordable broadband

President Bush on Friday called for affordable high-speed Internet access for all Americans by 2007 in a speech that left many Washington insiders curious as to the timing.

Campaigning in Albuquerque, Bush also said that once universal, affordable broadband is a reality, ''we ought to make sure that as soon as possible thereafter consumers have plenty of choices."

But while the specifics of the proposal were vague and the topic hardly controversial, it was the first time in nearly two years the president talked about broadband Internet service.

Executives in the telecom and electronics industries have urged Bush to publicly support broadband as a way of boosting the economy and generating jobs. They thought he would promote broadband in his 2003 State of the Union address, but it never happened.

''It's probably an election-year ploy," said Van Cullens, chief of Westell Technologies Inc. ''But I'll take it.

Cullens's Aurora, Ill., firm makes broadband equipment and has been working for years with groups seeking to enlist Washington's support.

Shortly after Bush's speech, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry also mentioned the high-speed Internet technology during a speech in Detroit.

''I will focus on raising American competitiveness by spurring the growth of new industries like the broadband technology that will dominate the future," Kerry said.

While it is unclear why the president broke his silence Friday, some speculate it is related to the heated battle among phone giants over the wholesale rates they can charge rivals.

Since a federal appeals court ruled this month that the current rate system should be scrapped, long-distance carriers AT&T and MCI have been lobbying for a Supreme Court appeal. They are opposed by SBC Communications Inc., Verizon Communications Inc., and other local phone giants that applauded the court ruling.

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