We learned quite a bit this week about the National Broadband Plan – scheduled to be released on March 17 – which may end up being one of the most ambitious communications policy undertakings in recent memory. There are a lot of tough and challenging issues yet to be addressed, but what we’ve heard so far gives us a much better idea of how comprehensive the plan will be, and helps shape our early thinking about how our industry can help.
First, in a speech earlier this week before NARUC, the association of state communications regulators, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski provided the initial preview – starting with his forward-looking challenge to the communications industries to provide Internet speeds of at least 100 Mbps to 100 million U.S. households by 2020.
Our industry remains committed to leading in the effort to meet America’s broadband goals. That will require the continued evolution of the cable plant from a one-way, analog video programming service to a platform that delivers an ever-changing array of two-way, digital services; the continued deployment of next generation broadband; and continued innovation to use capacity more efficiently.
Today, a typical cable system has a total capacity of 5 Gbps, meaning our typical customer already has well over 1 Gbps of data available to his or her household. Today, we use that capacity to deliver hundreds of channels of analog and digital video (including high-definition television) and phone service as well, of course, as Internet access. As new applications and services emerge and consumer demand changes, the cable industry is well placed to redeploy bandwidth to meet those changing needs.
Most of this will involve private investment and private sector innovation. But, as we have said before, there are clearly ways the FCC can help. We appreciate the FCC’s recognition, for example, of the need to provide flexibility that encourages the continued deployment of switched-digital video which uses bandwidth more efficiently and low-cost set-top boxes which aid the drive to all-digital systems. Measures such as these also promote the continued rollout of DOCSIS 3.0, a technology which offers speeds over 100 Mbps today. Multichannel News recently estimated that DOCSIS 3.0 – commonly referred to as wideband – is currently being offered to more than 52 million U.S. consumers and businesses.
But while more than 90 percent of U.S. households have high-speed Internet service available, only about 65 percent have chosen to subscribe, according to a report released this week by NTIA. As he has before, Chairman Genachowski correctly identified this broadband “adoption gap” as one of the key problems confronting us:
Right now, more than 100 million Americans that could and should have broadband don’t have it. Because they can’t afford broadband, don’t know how to use it, or aren’t aware of its potential benefits.
I was pleased to see him compliment NCTA’s proposed Adoption Plus (A+) Program, which would offer digital media literacy education, discounted computers, and discounted home broadband service to low-income families. But there are many other good ideas out there — and the bottom line is that this challenge will only be met successfully by 1) treating it as a multi-faceted problem and 2) and addressing it through public-private partnerships. Here too, our industry remains committed to be a constructive partner with other industries and government at all levels.
Second, the FCC’s meeting yesterday also offered a lengthy set of “working recommendations” by the broadband team that are intended to integrate broadband into the nation’s key economic, government and societal priorities, including “high quality healthcare, world-class education, smarter energy tools, 21st century jobs, greater public safety, more opportunities for civic engagement, and a better quality of life.” Credit goes to the Chairman and his staff, particularly the broadband team, for placing broadband policy in its proper context.
In each of these areas, there is an enormous amount of work to be done, and some intriguing opportunities. Many cable operators and systems have already embarked on unique partnerships and other relationships which advance many of these goals, including a new smart energy initiative launched earlier this month by the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers.
During our annual Cable Show last May in Washington, D.C., we showcased some of these projects at our Broadband Nation exhibit:
- A rural medical clinic where patients can access a custom video-on-demand library to learn more about their conditions and treatment, and use a secure broadband connection to share vital signs and electronic medical records for a video teleconference with a specialist hundreds of miles away.
- A broadband connected middle school that allows students to read a book with the author, research any video ever produced by C-SPAN, travel the world with Discovery’s vast online collection of video content, enjoy the unique experience of interacting with a Promethean smart board.
- A high-definition video conference center that uses broadband to improve communication and productivity by connecting co-workers that appear to be right across the table, when in reality could be anywhere in the world.
The Broadband Nation video below highlights the innovative services that were on display for the home, school, and office, as well as specialized applications for medical centers, schools, and retail and entertainment outlets.
In the days ahead, we look forward to learning even more about the National Broadband Plan. There’s much work ahead of us, but I have no doubt we can make this shared vision a reality.