Fix The National Guard Bandwidth Gap
The National Guard Empowerment Act of 2007 was introduced in both the House and Senate (S 430 & HR 718) at the end of January.
There are several important provisions to this legislation, including the fact that it seeks to give the National Guard Bureau (NGB) the ability to identify and validate equipment needs essential to Guard missions.
Certainly the Guard needs new aircraft, trucks, weapons and other essential items, but the time is right to add something completely new to the roster of Guard equipment and services: access to free broadband service for all personnel provided by commercial-off-the-shelf satellite broadband systems.
Despite the NGB’s growing emphasis on distance learning and despite the emphasis on more intensive training for homeland security-related missions in particular, I am left to wonder if the Guard’s pool of available domestic bandwidth is adequate. In other words, does the Guard need help in this regard?
This writer’s response is definitely yes, and it all stems from a very brief exchange that took place after I gave the opening speech to a crowd of about 150 attendees at an event sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development, among others, in Bangor, Maine, in fall 2006. The event focused on how rural Maine might go about expanding access to broadband services, and I was there as the author of a multi-part series on this topic.
I tried to maintain my broadband platform neutrality — for 5 minutes or so — before launching into pro-satellite overdrive. The audience appreciated my enthusiasm, and asked many questions. However, the Guard members in attendance sat quietly in the back row.
I approached them after the event, and the Guard personnel gave a me a puzzled look when I told them I wish everyone had access to all the bandwidth and broadband tools that they must have access to.
The looks on their faces made it clear that I had gone way wide of the mark with this comment and that Guard bandwidth is not at all abundant.
So it is time to start thinking about amending or augmenting the National Guard Empowerment Act as scores of Guard troops — in rural states in particular — most likely face an unwelcome obstacle in the form of insufficient broadband resources, wireless or otherwise.
This gap impacts training and readiness and degrades the ability of the Guard to respond effectively to crises at home and abroad.
Why not give members of the Guard free broadband equipment and service as an incentive? Talk about killing two birds with one stone. If the top priority would be to serve the purpose of enhancing distance learning and mission-specific training at home, well, that alone is a valid reason indeed.
The National Guard Empowerment Act of 2007 could send a strong message down the line that the United States is ready and able to support Guard troops in every way. While many troops might have access to telco DSL, terrestrial wireless and cable broadband service providers, thousands probably do not.
These are the people who would benefit the most from a free satellite broadband system, and the deployment of an NGB broadband solution to the homes of all personnel could propel the Guard’s entire training regimen to the next level as well.
The Senate’s National Guard Caucus in particular needs to send a message to the American public that the Guard’s training requirements and skills upgrading cannot go short-changed, and that training cannot go forward on a status quo basis. There is simply too much at stake.
In this light, access to free broadband is a sound policy. The National Guard Empowerment Act must transform domestic preparedness, and this cannot be accomplished absent suitable online training tools which Guard personnel can access at home at no charge.
This is not intended as a budget-busting recommendation, and through a combination of tax incentives and other measures, broadband service providers could be easily enlisted to make this a reality in short order.
If the Guard really has to evolve into a 21st Century organization, it needs 21st Century tools. And broadband systems of all types and descriptions including satellite broadband systems fit the bill.