There's been a lot of discussion in the policy arena about broadband deployment and adoption in America. While there's been a lot of talk about whether the US is a leader or a laggard in broadband compared with other countries, one thing everybody seems to agree on is the need to get broadband deployed in areas that don't yet have it.
At Comcast, we've already deployed broadband to 99% of our footprint - that's over 50.3 million homes that have access to Comcast High Speed Data. The cable industry as a whole has broadband in front of over 90% of American homes, but that still means that there are millions of people who don't yet have broadband going by their home or business.
To address that issue, part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act aka the Stimulus Bill that was recently passed by Congress and signed by the President includes several billion dollars to encourage additional broadband deployment and adoption as a way to drive economic growth.
Today, the National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA), of which Comcast is a member, put out a new White Paper: Moving the Needle on Broadband: Stimulus Strategies to Spur Adoption and Extend Access Across America. NCTA lays out basic principles and priorities for the use of Stimulus grants, and says that the number one goal should be extending broadband to "unserved" areas. These are about 9-10 million households mostly in rural areas, and NCTA and Comcast believe grants for these areas should have top priority. A recent study cited in the report says up to 1/3 of rural homes don't have broadband access today.
The next priority, according to NCTA, should be support for programs that get "underserved" populations to use broadband where it is already available. While over 90% of households can get access to broadband, only about six out of ten are subscribing today. There are a number of reasons why. Some people don't have computers and Internet at all, and some Internet users feel dial-up is just fine. NCTA encourages the grants to be used to support increases in computer ownership and training, among other things (a recent ITU report had computer ownership in the US at about 70% at the end of 2007).
In an interview with Amy Schatz of The Wall Street Journal, NCTA president Kyle McSlarrow said, "Not everyone can afford [broadband]. Let's go after the demand side." The NCTA report advocates doing that with both consumer education and targeted subsidies to make broadband more affordable - similar to Lifeline phone service.
As policy papers go, this one is a quick read, and concisely lays out the industry position. We look forward to working with NCTA and the Administration to further the goals of the Stimulus broadband package.