On February 17th, President Obama signed the "American Recovery and

Reinvestment Act of

2009," aka "the economic

stimulus plan." Whatever one thinks of the details of the final

product, you can’t help but admire the political tenacity it took to

complete this huge package in just six weeks. On the whole, we think the

package is a good and necessary thing, and we support it.

As the nation’s largest residential broadband provider, we were

particularly interested in the President’s stated goal to stimulate

broadband as part of the plan. We thought that the best ways to do that

were to:

  1. Spend broadband deployment dollars in areas where broadband isn’t -the large unserved geographic areas of America where about 8-10 percentof the population just can’t get broadband;

  2. Spend on getting reliablestate maps so we’ll have reliable information on which areas areunserved;

  3. Find some ways to promote "broadband adoption" - thatis, get more Americans online.

Our company has a gameplan to get our next-generation high-speed

Internet service (using what we call "DOCSIS 3.0


") in front of all of our homes in the next two years, offering speeds of 50 Mbps or greater. At various points, tax credits were proposed to get broadband companies to build these networks out faster. Ultimately, tax

credits were not part of the bill, but we are no less committed to getting DOCSIS 3.0 technology into your neighborhood as fast as we can.

Instead, Congress decided to put about $7 billion into grant and loan programs administered by the Commerce and Agriculture Departments to help get broadband built in unserved areas. This makes sense in

principle, but it’s not a lot of money relative to what it’s really going to take to reach the remaining unserved areas. We hope the federal departments are careful to use the money on projects that use

efficient and reliable technologies, and not on projects that don’t serve truly unserved areas. And we hope that Agriculture Secretary Vilsack will be vigilant about how his Rural Utility Service spends the funds.

The dollars set aside for broadband mapping and broadband adoption make

good sense. Hopefully, mapping will proceed expeditiously so we can be

sure those grant and loan dollars are going to truly unserved areas that

need it.

We’ve already worked with many states on mapping projects, and we have

been impressed by the great work that an organization called Connected


done in helping states with the maps (so impressed, in fact, that I

joined their board last year). Broadband mapping needs to move full

speed ahead.

And dollars spent to promote broadband adoption should fund programs

that help people get over the hurdles to getting online, For some

people, broadband may still be too expensive (though competition,

especially between cable and phone companies, is making service more and

more affordable). For others, there’s still the question, "what do I

need it for?" For the estimated 25 percent of American homes without a

PC or Mac, there’s not much point in having broadband. And then there’s

the fear factor ("I don’t know how to use the

thing") or cultural factors ("I’m afraid what it will bring into my


We need a comprehensive national focus on broadband adoption to address

these and other factors. We also need

to address various legal and policy barriers that keep people from

getting the full benefits of broadband - e.g., you may not be able to

use Internet-based home health care if Medicare won’t help pay for it,

and you can’t use broadband to access government services if the

government doesn’t deliver them online.

There’s a lot of policy work to be done - and I’ll keep posting about it

right here.