Government Should Promote Broadband Adoption and Focus on the Unserved, Says Cable Chief

Broadband Stimulus, Broadband's Impact, NTIA March 5th, 2009

, Reporter,

WASHINGTON, March 5, 2009 – Broadband stimulus funds should be prioritized to unserved areas and encourage greater adoption, National Cable and Telecommunications Association president and CEO Kyle McSlarrow wrote in a Thursday letter to members of Congress.

McSlarrow wrote to express NCTA’s enthusiastic support for the broadband stimulus programs, while informing lawmakers of the group’s preferred direction for grant programs.

“Our industry applauds the renewed focus on broadband” that the stimulus funding represents, McSlarrow wrote. The American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, signed by President Obama on February 17, allocates $7.2 billion for broadband programs to be administered by the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the Agriculture Department’s Rural Utilities Service, with input from the Federal Communications Commission.

Congress should be a vigilant watchdog of the broadband grant funding, McSlarrow said. He suggested that lawmakers build “a framework within which these agencies, with appropriate oversight by Congress, can ensure accountability and most effectively meet the objectives of the Recovery Act with regard to broadband deployment and adoption.”

Extending service to the “small percentage of the nation’s homes with no physical access to broadband” should be the first priority of the grant programs, McSlarrow wrote.

McSlarrow emphasized that once the network is built, Congress must look to overcoming other barriers that prevent more widespread broadband adoption: “the lack of a computer or other equipment needed to connect to the Internet, low levels of basic ‘digital literacy’, and the lack of perceived value in broadband services.”

Funds remaining after build-out should be spent on “supporting programs that enable underserved populations to acquire and make effective use of broadband services where it already available,” he said.

In an interview, McSlarrow elaborated that the federal government should use its position to promote the benefits of broadband services. Consumers would see government as “more objective” in illustrating how broadband is relevant in their lives, or “why broadband matters not just to the country, but also to them as individuals.”

McSlarrow cited a Pew Internet & American Life Project study while suggesting a major factor behind low broadband adoption in many communities is those consumers “just don’t understand why it matters to them,” according to McSlarrow.

If government is to invest in building out broadband networks, McSlarrow said it should use a proportionate amount of resources to encourage more widespread adoption to overcome a perceived lack of relevance to some consumers. “If you’re going to… get everybody connected, you’ve got [to] go right after that specific challenge,” he said.

The new administration’s high regard for the usefulness of broadband should have ordinary people paying attention: “The fact that President Obama says broadband is important – that’s a statement that people are going to filter into their own lives.”

Despite the problems that lay ahead in getting all Americans to be active online, McSlarrow was optimistic about the benefits of expanding broadband beyond the 65 percent of Americans who already subscribe to high-speed services. “The truth is, we only have a faint glimpse of what’s to come if you have an America… that is completely connected,” he said. “We don’t even know what’s around the corner.”

In a separate interview, FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein said that the FCC should take a “comprehensive approach” in working together with other agencies to develop a national broadband strategy.

Adelstein suggested such a strategy should work “on both the demand side and the supply side,” in order to reach underserved populations: “I think a big part of looking at smart nationwide broadband deployment involves…not only ensuring that people understand not only the benefits of broadband but are encouraged to use it.”

Adelstein said government could increase demand for broadband services is by developing solutions “that help people use broadband to interact with the government.” Aggressive deployment of e-government programs could help assure broadband providers that there would be sufficient demand for their services once networks are built out, he said.

Reports in the telecommunications trade press place Adelstein, formerly an advisor to former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., on the short list to run the Rural Utilities Service after his second term at the FCC expires this June.

But Adelstein said he is focused on the goal of developing a national broadband plan – an initiative he has championed for most of his tenure at the commission. Adelstein wouldn’t comment on what he called “future possibilities” at the Agriculture department: “I’m focused on what I’m doing here.”

Broadband Breakfast Club

March Meeting: Broadband Competition: Do We Have It, and How Do We Get More of It? presents the March meeting of the Broadband Breakfast Club at Old Ebbitt Grill on Tuesday, March 10, 2009, at 8 a.m. Because of the Commerce Department/Agriculture Department/FCC Public Meeting on broadband stimulus from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., the Broadband Breakfast Club will adjourn at 9:30 a.m.

  • NEW! – James Baller, President of Baller Herbst Law Group, will provide a brief summary of the progress of the U.S. Broadband Coalition
  • Art Brodsky, Communication Director, Public Knowledge
  • Kathleen Ham, Vice President, Federal Regulatory, T-Mobile USA
  • Brent Olson, Assistant Vice President, Public Policy, AT&T
  • Emmett O’Keefe, Director, Federal Public Policy,
  • Scott Wallsten, Vice President for Research and Senior Fellow, Technology Policy Institute

Webcasts of the Broadband Breakfast Club Produced in Partnership with:

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