Moving the Needle on Broadband


Yesterday, NCTA released a new White Paper entitled “Moving the Needle on Broadband: Stimulus Strategies to Spur Adoption and Extend Access Across America,” which we think will provide some helpful perspective on the issue of implementing broadband stimulus funding.

It’s a pretty commonly accepted view today that a strong broadband infrastructure is positive for America, since broadband can be a key driver of the economy; the use of grants from the stimulus that are used to promote the use of broadband can effectively stimulate both short-term and longer-term economic growth. It’s one of the reasons we’re staging the Broadband Nation exhibit at our coming convention, because it will provide graphic evidence of broadband’s impact in the community.

So how do we go about reaching these goals, or at least move the needle in the right direction?

It’s useful to point out that cable has played an important role in all that we have achieved so far. About 92% of U.S. homes are passed by High-Speed Internet service from cable operators. Our industry has invested $146.8 billion in infrastructure upgrades since 1996; cable will be investing about $14 billion this year alone. This is all infrastructure built with private capital, not government funding.

But there is about $7 billion available in the stimulus package, and every little bit can be helpful. But the question to be asked is, “How can those funds be used most effectively?” Our White Paper lays out our views on this question.

NCTA asserts that the broadband grant and loan programs in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) should be implemented with the following basic principles:

  • Funds should be used to increase broadband adoption and use;
  • Awards should be competitively and technologically neutral so as not to create disincentives to private investment that necessarily will continue to take the lead in broadband deployment;
  • Value-producing projects that can be implemented quickly should receive the highest priority; and,
  • Implementation should be transparent and coordinated with other agencies providing similar aid.

We also say that funding should be deployed in a manner that adheres to the principle of “First, do no harm” to the existing broadband industry, which has already made the investments described above. The foremost priorities in awarding competitive grants, in descending order, should be:

  1. Extending broadband facilities to unserved areas.
  2. Supporting programs that enable underserved populations to acquire and to make effective use of broadband service where it is already available.
  3. If funds remain, extending broadband facilities to underserved areas defined in terms of below-standard speed and other qualitative measures relative to today’s current-generation broadband services.

You should take a look at the whole document, which is available on our website.

UPDATE: Coverage of the White Paper.