WASHINGTON, December 2, 2009 - The nation's cable television and internet providers are once again making an aggressive push for broadband stimulus funds to be spent on "demand-side" programs as the National Cable and Telecommunications Association announced a pilot program for "Adoption Plus" - a proposal to promote broadband adoption for nearly 3.5 million children of middle school age.
The children targeted by the program live in around 1.8 million low-income households that are eligible for the National School Lunch Program and do not receive broadband services.
The program, called "A+," for short, is detailed in filings NCTA submitted Monday to both the Federal Communications Commission and National Telecommunications and Information Administration, and found its genesis during extensive discussions between NCTA and the offices of FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski and Omnibus Broadband Initiative Executive Director Blair Levin.
Genachowski and Levin both have history of support for using schools in the battle against the digital divide. Each played prominent roles in the development and implementation of the FCC's "E-Rate" program in the wake of the 1996 Telecommunications Act. The program - which still operates to this day - created a pool of funding to connect schools and libraries to the Internet.
During those discussions, all the parties realized there is "no silver bullet" for increasing broadband adoption, said NCTA president Kyle McSlarrow. "Our view...was that you needed to attack the problem in a way that was comprehensive."
The A+ program, as proposed, would use federal funding to take aim at multiple barriers that have been identified as inhibiting broadband adoption, McSlarrow said. Each identified barrier would be attacked head on with digital literacy training for children, along with programs to provide discounted computers capable of internet access - as well as subsidizing the access itself. NCTA members have committed to providing cable modem service to eligible homes at a 50 percent discount over the next two years during the "pilot" phase of the program.
Genachowski was full of praise for NCTA and the A+ program. "Ensuring that all Americans have access to affordable broadband service is a national priority," he said Tuesday in a statement. He echoed McSlarrow's assessment that there is "no silver bullet for promoting sustainable adoption," and called A+ "a program that will bring the benefits of broadband to millions of middle school-aged children in low-income households across the country.”
The NCTA proposal drew immediate statements of support from Members of Congress. Rep. Danny Davis, D-Ill., and chair of the Congressional Black Caucus Community Reinvestment Task Force, said he "applauds efforts to develop public-private partnerships to expand access to broadband services, especially for children in economically-impacted communities where such access is very limited." And Rep Linda Sanchez, D-Calif, said A+ "will help level the playing field for the children of working families who are currently being left behind in the digital revolution."
Other stakeholders - including longtime advocates of "demand-side" broadband programs - were full of praise for the NCTA proposal. One Economy CEO Rey Ramsey called A+ "a bold and thoughtful approach to expanding broadband adoption to those who need it most," and pledged his organization's support. "One Economy will join forces with industry, government and other institutions to ensure that this initiative is the success it deserves to be."
Family Online Safety Institute CEO Stephan Balkam said his organization would support A+ "particularly due to the focus on digital literacy." And Internet Keep Safe Coalition president Marsaki Hancock hailed the A+ proposal as a "public-private partnership promoting broadband adoption includes comprehensive digital citizenship education, including security and media literacy training, through a scalable model to provide the skills and infrastructure necessary to create a generation of responsible, ethical, and resilient digital citizens."
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