A team of Internet and policy experts that includes two former FCC chairmen has highlighted the urgency of universal broadband in a report that accords the deployment of broadband infrastructure and the promotion of broadband access the same high priority as the construction of the U.S. interstate highway system during the 1950s. These and other conclusions were outlined in a report released last Friday by the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy, a bipartisan advisory body on Internet and media issues. The group’s 17 members include former FCC chairmen Reed Hundt and Michael Powell, several newspaper publishers, a top Google executive, and a former president of CNN. The report, which focuses on public information needs in the digital age, was compiled by the Knight Commission in cooperation with the Aspen Institute. The report’s recommendations are based on the notion that universal broadband is needed not only to ensure public access to information but also to enable the public to manage essential everyday services such as employment, education and health care. Asserting that the digital age “is not serving all Americans and their local communities equally,” the report maintains, “the time has come for new thinking and aggressive action to dramatically improve the information opportunities available to the American people, the information health of the country’s communities, and the information vitality of our democracy.” To that end, the study lays out a series of recommended actions for government and private sector leaders that include (1) the creation of ambitious standards for nationwide broadband availability, (2) adoption of policies that encourage consumer broadband usage, (3) public outreach efforts that include digital media training and programs geared toward broadband “literacy,” (4) preservation of open networks as a core objective of Internet policy, and (5) establishment of community Internet “hubs” that provide links to local information. While praising the goal of the Obama Administration to expand broadband deployment nationwide, the report calls for greater investment in broadband facilities that serve rural and other underserved areas, based on statistical findings that one-third of U.S. rural communities lack access to broadband.