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Cable Seeks Links to White House ‘ConnectED’ Push

WASHINGTON — President Obama last week talked about picking up the phone and calling companies to help in a government-industry partnership to expand his high-speed broadband effort to schools and libraries.

Notably absent from that list were cable operators, which are some of the biggest broadband providers, both wired and, through hot spots, wireless.

At press time, the White House had not responded to a request for comment on why its ConnectED expansion announcement included only wireless providers AT&T, Verizon Communications and Sprint, plus pledges from Microsoft and Apple. Those were the companies the White House saluted as “answering the President’s challenge to ‘dig deep’ in support of ConnectED to enrich K-12 education, expand opportunities for students, and train, a 21st century workforce.”

Arguably, cable operators were answering the call to subsidize broadband before the president even made it, and are a major player in wireless connectivity via hundreds of thousands of available hot spots. Even Obama, in announcing the ConnectED initiative, said that if everyone had Wi-Fi at their coffee shops, he didn’t see why that could not be the case at their schools.

“We are the one providing 200,000 Wi- Fi hotspots (the most by far of any industry) plus broadband adoption programs that have helped over 250,000 low-income families,” a spokesman for the National Cable & Telecommunications Association noted last week.

“For the last 25 years, cable has played an important role in the education of our children by providing both robust technology and dynamic educational content. We are committed to continuing this contribution well into the future,” the NCTA blogged soon after cable was left off the president’s dance card. David Cohen, executive vice president of the NCTA’s largest member, Comcast, followed suit.

In a Feb. 5 blog posting on digital learning, Cohen said the company supports the E-Rate and ConnectED initiatives. But he also pointed out that it was not enough to just get to the school. “It also has to be effectively deployed throughout the building — by wire and through leading-edge Wi-Fi networks.”