Comcast's Cohen: Broadband Access Is Central Civil Rights Issue

EVP Says Country's Broadband Speed Problem is With Speed of Adoption 7/10/2013 10:39 AM Eastern


Getting broadband to every household, regardless of race, color creed or economic situation is this century's central civil rights struggle, and Comcast is "all in" for that effort, as well as reflecting the full diversity of the country in hiring, investment and programming.

Comcast EVP David Cohen told an audience of minority media entrepreneurs Wednesday that the country did not have a broadband speed problem, unless it was defined as the slow speed of adoption, which he said was intolerable.

Cohen delivered the keynote speech at the Minority Media & Telecommunications council's Hall of Fame luncheon at the annual Access to Capital Conference.

Comcast has been a leader in providing low-income households with school-aged kids access to low-cost broadband via its Internet Essentials program. That point was made by MMTC chair Julia Johnson, who welcomed Cohen to the podium as "a member of the family"--she called him "Uncle David"-- and lauded the diversity efforts of both Cohen and his company (Cohen said it was the best introduction he had ever gotten and wished he could take it on the road with him.)

"Civil rights advocates of 50 years ago fought and ultimately won the battle for equal rights," he said, pointing out the upcoming 50th Anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King's I Have a Dream speech.

"But the battle for equal opportunity continues. And that battle won’t be won," he said, "so long as we have people stranded on the wrong side of the digital divide because broadband technology is fast becoming the most essential tool for full participation in American society."

Cohen indicated bridging that divide was more than a dream. "Achieving digital equality really is possible," he said, but added that it would take a public-private partnership linking "the broadband industry, Silicon Valley, non-profit organizations, schools, the faith-based community and government."

The FCC has already taken a page from Comcast by launching a government/industry low-income adoption effort mirroring that of Internet Essentials.

While he was on the subject of broadband, Cohen said it was time to put to rest, "once and for all," the myth that the U.S. was lagging in broadband deployment. 

He said that rap was based on old (2009), cherrypicked data. Even if it wasn't, he added, the U.S. by even that measure has "shot up" from number 22 to number 8. He said, then repeated for emphasis, that if U.S. states were individually counted in world broadband rankings, they would account for eight of the top 10 regions in average connection speed.

"About 85 percent of U.S. households already have access to cable networks capable of speeds of 100 megs per second or more – compared to about 20 percent just four years ago," he said, thanks to $1.2 trillion in private sector investment from 1996 to 2011, most without government guarantees [loans] or subsidies.

He said that investment came in good economic times and bad. "Broadband providers haven't been sushine investors. When the economic skies got dark, we didn’t run for cover," he said.

Cohen said that measured by speed, Comcast has the fastest speeds of any national provider, has boosted speeds 11 times in as many years, and that most of that came with no price increases so that, as measured by cost per megabit, broadband cost has actually decreased by 87%.

But Cohen said the campaign for diversity extends beyond broadband. He said the cause Comcast was committed to was making sure not only that broadband was available to every home, but that corporate America was diverse and inclusive, and that the media, both corporately and in its role of sending images to all America via cable or broadcast, entertainment or news programming, reflects the full cultural and ethnic diversity of the country.

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