The National Cable & Telecommunications Association says the federal government should put a priority on extending broadband service to areas that can't get it at all, and to helping underserved populations buy and use the service that already exists there.
Only after that, and if there is any money left over, should the government start putting money into essentially overbuilding underserved areas according to faster speeds or some other measure of "underserved."
In essence, that was the message the cable industry was trying to convey in a letter addressed to every member of Congress.
NCTA is weighing in before the National Telecommunications & Information Administration, the FCC and the Agricultural Department's Rural Utilities Service decide how to dole out the $7.2 billion in broadband deployment grants and loans provided for in the OBama administration's economic stimulus package.
In the letter from NCTA President Kyle McSlarrow to Congress, the cable association identified a number of the barriers to adoption in underserved areas that the government could address short of simply funding new competitors to cable operators already serving those areas. They included affordability -- adding the caveat that price concerns come despite declining prices per megabit and the increasing value of the service -- and the lack of a computer, or computer literacy.
NTIA, FCC and RUS will meet next week in a public forum to discuss the grant/loan program. Among the issues that needs to be resolved are defining an underserved area and how best to serve it. The FCC has the added charter of coming up with a plan, within a year, for getting broadband service to everyone in the nation.
Those unserved areas, McSlarrow wrote, exist despite the progress cable -- the largest broadband provide -- has made in wiring the nation. He said that included spending $146 billion since 1996 to upgrade and expand networks that now reach 92% of the country with broadband service, and the deployment of next-generation wideband service at much higher speeds.
McSlarrow also gave cable some of the credit for competition in the arena, saying that investment had spurred telcos and wireless providers to up their broadband deployment.