Getting more Americans connected to broadband – it’s a critical goal that we should all support. With broadband Internet service now available to well over 90 percent of all Americans, but with an estimated 37 percent of Americans not yet using it, we have what some have called a “broadband adoption gap.”
Over the last several months, Comcast EVP David L. Cohen and I have hosted a series of conversations in Washington, bringing in experts from government, business, journalism, academia, the not-for-profit sector, groups that advocate for African American, Hispanic, and Asian Pacific Islander populations, and many other interests to discuss this question: how do we promote broadband adoption so America can become the most connected nation on Earth?
These conversations generated a lot of important information and insights. And in follow-up discussions with the National Cable and Telecommunications Association (“NCTA”) – our industry trade group – we and they tapped into a lot of this good thinking, along with the experience of other cable industry leaders like Cox Communications and Time Warner Cable, to develop a concept for how the cable industry can help to bring more Americans across the digital divide and into the era of broadband.
Today, Kyle McSlarrow, the president of NCTA, released a proposal on behalf of the entire cable industry for what we call the “Adoption Plus” (or “A+”) Program. It’s a thoughtful, comprehensive plan to bring broadband to an estimated 1.8 million low-income households with middle-school children. You can read more about the cable industry’s proposal here.
The A+ Program is a holistic effort to break down several of the most significant barriers to broadband adoption.
It addresses digital literacy by urging the federal government to use up to $100 million dollars in remaining “broadband stimulus” funds to underwrite efforts by local school districts to train middle-schoolers in the safe and effective use of the Internet, and to qualify households to participate in the A+ Program.
It addresses the price barrier of computer equipment by urging manufacturers and retailers to participate in a discount program targeted at these families with middle-schoolers.
And it addresses the affordability of broadband Internet service for low-income households – as part of this proposal, America’s leading cable broadband providers have committed to offer a 50 percent discount off of their lowest tier of broadband service to qualifying homes for the next two years, with minimum downstream speeds of one Mbps.
The focus on homes with middle-schoolers is very deliberate. This is the age at which having access to and knowledge of the Internet can make a big difference in student preparedness for high school and college. And it is an age where the maturity of the student is such that he or she can take advantage of the opportunities provided by the A+ program.
We think the A+ Program represents a very efficient use of federal dollars that have already been dedicated by Congress to promoting broadband, and is potentially a very effective model for a future program to subsidize broadband adoption for low-income households.
We hope the federal government will embrace the A+ Program. It can power digital literacy, expand broadband connectivity, and open up new educational and career opportunities for millions of young Americans.