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Cable Commits To Sweeping Broadband Adoption Program

As B&C/Multi first reported, cable operators have joined the FCC's Connect to Compete (C2C) program in a new broadband adoption effort part of which mirrors Comcast's Internet Essentials braodband adoption program launched earlier this year.

NCTA President & CEO Michael Powell and Cox Communications president Pat Esser joined FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski and others Wednesday to unveil a new commitment by national cable providers to offer discounted broadband to families with kids who qualify for the national school lunch program, starting with the 2012 school year.

Genachowski, announcing the effort at a D.C.public shools praised ISPS, technology companies and nonprofits" for what the FCC called an "unprecedented $4 billion dollar in-kind commitment" to broadband service and training to millions of families "with zero cost to tax payers."

"Securing America's competitiveness in a global economy means making sure that every American has access to high-speed broadband Internet and is able to take advantage of it," said President Barack Obama in a statement. "This important partnership between my administration and American businesses represents a major step toward closing the digital divide -- connecting more families to the 21st-century economy, creating new jobs and unleashing new opportunities, and helping America win the future."

Comcast, the nation's largest cable provider, launched its Internet Essentials program in September of this year, offering service for $9.95 a month, plus free training and subsidized low-cost computers. NCTA's other members are now committing to a similar effort.

NCTA estimated that there are more than 10 million fee lunch students in 5.5 million homes that currently do not subscribe to broadband.

"Time Warner Cable is proud to participate in the FCC's "Connect-to-Compete" partnership, committed to tackling America's broadband adoption challenge. Today, Internet access is a vital tool for education and economic success," said the company in a statement.

NCTA said participating cable operators will partner with civic groups and others, including the Broadband Opportunity Coalition, to get the word out. That will include direct outreach and mailings.

NCTA said that adoption effort must go beyond simply subsidizing service. "Because research shows that the availability of discounted, low-cost broadband is not, in and of itself, going to solve the adoption problem," it said, "and that digital literacy and the relevance of online content also are key barriers - cable providers will work with other C2C partners as part of a larger overall effort to increase adoption."

NCTA almost two years ago proposed an Adoption-Plus (A+) program to offer low-income families with middle school kids half price broadband service and half price modems for two years, plus free installation. But that program was contingent on government-funded training and education through the broadband stimulus program and never got off the ground.

Former House Communications Subcommittee Chair Ed Markey (D-Mass.) called the commitment a "strong, significant and substantial" effort. "The FCC and its private sector partners are to be commended for this creative and bold new plan. This innovative strategy should open up a world of educational and social possibilities for low-income Americans who have been disconnected from opportunities in the digital age while also increasing our competitiveness in the global marketplace."