Asked if the public would support higher prices for an improved electrical grid, Oldak said that's the wrong question to ask. In pilot programs using "smart" thermostats, customers have saved 10 percent to 15 percent on their electric bills by allowing electric companies to control electricity use during peak hours. For instance, an electric company could adjust the temperatures of air conditioners or heaters via the thermostats to reduce electricity consumption. Without smart grids, the U.S. will continue to waste energy and the energy industry will have to build dozens of new power plants to keep up with demand, he said.
"You can't look at this as adding $5 to people's bills," he said. "You've got to look at what the situation will look like with or without smart grids."
Since Schmidt's speech, there have been some detractors to Google's policy vision. While privacy groups have raised concerns about the practices of Google and other online companies, Google's policy goals don't mention privacy, said Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy and a frequent Google critic.
"Failing to acknowledge privacy online is a glaring omission and undermines the company's credibility," Chester said. "Google should acknowledge that protecting online privacy must be a key task for the new administration and Congress. Google is so generous making suggestions, but fails to reflect how its own data collection house should be put in order."
Blogger Matt Sherman, of The Only Republican in San Francisco , questioned remarks by Obama transition official Susan Crawford, suggesting broadband should be treated like a public utility, one way the government could get involved in broadband rollout.
"Is there anyone in the technology world who sees public utilities as a model for innovation?" Sherman wrote. "A 1.5 megabit connection (T1) was an unimaginable luxury when I started in tech in the mid-90's. It was for well-funded companies only. Today, it is a low-end consumer connection and costs around 80% less. Has your sewage service followed a similar trajectory?"
But a national broadband policy would not have to mean excessive government subsidies, said Gigi Sohn, president of digital rights group Public Knowledge. It could mean tax breaks for companies that roll out broadband in underserved areas and a thorough review of wireless spectrum use, she said at Thursday's forum.
People who aren't connected to broadband will have more and more social and economic disadvantages, added Scott. "What are the consequences of not being connected to the 21st-century network?" he said.