Cable Commits to Low-Cost Broadband


Washington — Cable operators last week joined the
Federal Communications Commission’s “Connect to Compete”
program in a new broadband-adoption effort, a portion
of which mirrors Comcast’s Internet Essentials program
launched earlier this year.

National Cable & Telecommunications Association CEO
Michael Powell and Cox Communications president Pat Esser
joined FCC chairman Julius Genachowski and others last
week at a public school here to unveil a new commitment by
national cable providers, nonprofi ts and others to offer discounted
broadband service and training and equipment to
families with kids who qualify for the national school lunch
program, starting with the 2012-2013 school year.

Genachowski praised broadband-service providers, technology
companies and nonprofits for what the FCC called an
“unprecedented $4 billion dollar in-kind commitment” to
broadband service and training to millions of families “with
zero cost to taxpayers.”

Comcast, the nation’s largest cable provider, launched its Internet
Essentials program in September of this year, offering
service for $9.95 a month, plus free training and subsidized
low-cost computers. The NCTA’s other members are now committing
to a similar effort.

The trade group estimated that there are more than 10 million
free-lunch-eligible students in 5.5 million homes that currently
do not subscribe
to broadband.

“Time Warner Cable
is proud to participate
in the FCC’s ‘Connect to
Compete’ partnership,
committed to tackling
America’s broadband
adoption challenge. Today,
Internet access is a
vital tool for education
and economic success,”
the No. 2 U.S. cable operator
said in a statement.

The NCTA said participating
cable operators
would partner with
civic groups and others, including the Broadband Opportunity
Coalition, to get the word out. That effort will include direct
outreach and mailings.

The NCTA said that adoption effort must go beyond simply
subsidizing service. “Because research shows that the
availability of discounted, low-cost broadband is not, in
and of itself, going to solve the adoption problem,” it said,
“and that digital literacy and the relevance of online content
also are key barriers — cable providers will work
with other C2C partners as part of a larger overall effort
to increase adoption.”

The NCTA almost two
years ago proposed an
Adoption-Plus (A+) program
to offer low-income
families with middle
school kids half-price
broadband service and
half-price modems for
two years, plus free installation.
But that program
was contingent on government-
funded training
and education through
the broadband stimulus
program and never got off
the ground.

Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), the former House Communications
Subcommittee chairman, called the commitment a
“strong, signifi cant and substantial” effort.

“The FCC and its private-sector partners are to be commended
for this creative and bold new plan,” Markey said.
“This innovative strategy should open up a world of educational
and social possibilities for low-income Americans who
have been disconnected from opportunities in the digital age
while also increasing our competitiveness in the global marketplace.”