COMMENTARY: U.S. cable industry says getting broadband to the poor “critical”. What about Canada?
May 21, 2012
By Greg O’Brien
I DARE ANYONE TO disagree with this statement: “A child without access to the Internet will find life increasingly difficult in the information age.”
National Cable and Telecommunications Association president and CEO Michael Powell said it Monday morning during his keynote speech to delegates in the standing-room-only opening general session at the 2012 Cable Show here in Boston. He was singing the praises of the U.S. industry’s Connect to Compete initiative where all of the major American cable companies have teamed up with the Federal Communications Commission and a large number of other corporations to push broadband connectivity to low income Americans beginning in September of this year.
Corporate partners in the initiative include Intel, Best Buy, Morgan Stanley, Microsoft and a bunch of others.
The program was initially pressed by the government and Commission down here, but will be privately funded and led by the cable industry. Granted, its impetus was the Comcast purchase of NBC Universal, where the FCC made the launch of a program to get broadband to the poorest Americans a condition of the sale’s approval, but now all major MSOs have signed on and all believe this is an important part of making sure a family’s income doesn’t leave kids offline when they so clearly need to be online to get a modern education.
So I’ll ask again, as I have repeatedly, as has my friend Mark Goldberg: What is the Canadian ISP industry doing to fill this gap, to help low income Canadians get broadband?
I will also provide my own answer: Nothing. And I’m dismayed. I see a thriving, strong. growing cable/telecom/ISP/TV industry but when I ask the senior leaders of these businesses in Canada about a broadband plan for the poor, I’m often pointed to the work the industry has done to get broadband to rural areas. I’ve replied repeatedly, it’s not about where low-income Canadians live, it’s about some families’ inability to afford broadband, whether they are in Churchill, Manitoba or living on Church Street in Toronto.
I’ve been sloughed off, too, told by the big companies, told to go pester the government about it, that something like this should be a federal government initiative. I’ve done that, too. Even though I believe this should be an industry-led initiative, a well-placed kick by the right government minister’s foot into the right rear ends would be effective in getting this off the ground in Canada.
So still, no action.
In the U.S., if a family qualifies for help under the National School Lunch Program, and isn’t already a broadband customer, they can sign up for a $9.95 per month broadband connection (with no installation charges, a low-cost or free modem and a minimum 1 Mbps download speed promise), access to other agencies and programs offering discounted computers, security software and training on how to use their new connectivity, too. The pilot project is wrapping up in San Diego, with a national rollout beginning in September.
Such a program works from a business perspective, too. We’re not talking about substituting a bunch of $40/month subscriptions for ones at $9.95. These low-income customers will be newcomers who previously couldn’t afford broadband. We’re talking about homes already in the ISP’s footprints which currently are generating no Internet revenue. Additionally, there are already Canadian organizations distributing computers to those who can’t afford them who send people off with the machines, but no connectivity, limiting their usefulness.
When will our industry step up and provide this missing link? Who in power will lead this? It could be our Minister of Industry, Christian Paradis or our Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development, Diane Finley. Better yet, one of the big ISP CEOs: George Cope (Bell), Nadir Mohamed (Rogers), Darren Entwistle (Telus), Brad Shaw (Shaw Communications) Pierre Karl Péladeau (Vidéotron) or Louis Audet (Cogeco), could step up and lead this. Others could take up the leadership mantle (like Governor-General David Johnston, a big bank CEO, a university or tech company like OpenText), but without the broadband connectivity piece and total buy-in from our ISPs, the program doesn’t work.
They’re doing it the right way down here in America. To repeat what Powell (right) said in full: “Many Americans still are not online and that needs to change. Cable is working to increase adoption by partnering with the FCC to launch a low cost broadband service to low income families across America. This is critical because a child without access to the Internet will find life increasingly difficult in the Information Age.”
We know this statement to be true. Where are the Canadian leaders who will act upon it?
Think we’re right? Wrong? Genius? Nuts? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll keep it to ourselves, too, if you’d like to chat.