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The Cable Show 2011: Genachowski: Broadband Adoption 'Just Not Good Enough'

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FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said Wednesday that the pace of broadband adoption is too slow and called on cable operators to step up their efforts. For his part, National Cable & Telecommunications Association President Michael Powell said the industry was committed to being a partner in that effort.

That came in a conversation between the two old friends to kick off Wednesday morning's general session at The Cable Show in Chicago. Genachowski's office had tipped his hand the night before in speech highlights that emphasized the adoption issue, which Powell teed up as the last question of the interview.

Echoing Powell's phrase in his keynote of the day before, Genachowski said broadband adoption is what "powers the American dream," and empowers people to find and get jobs, an education, and healthcare.

"Sixty-seven percent [the current broadband adoption rate] is so far from good enough, that we can't be satisfied with slow, step-by-step incremental change." He noted that adoption had only increased by a couple percentage points in the past year. It's just not good enough."

Powell quickly responded that he could count on the cable industry to be a partner in that effort.

But speaking to an audience that had helped make broadband available to 93% of the country and which has taken a number of steps to boost adoption as well, the chairman was looking to get more help, not to bite the hand that was already feeding that effort. "Cox has been a leader on this. One of the first things I learned as chairman was some of the creative programs that Cox has been doing to increase adoption." He gave a shout out to Comcast's "very significant" commitment in the NBC transaction "then energetically putting it in place," he said.

But even with that, he said, "we need to step this up a few notches. I am calling on the cable industry and other industries in the broadband economy to step up and help close the broadband gap."

As expected, he announced the launch of a public/private task force to come up with more creative ideas to boost adoption.

Genachowski said that there remained three big gaps, deployment, spectrum for mobile broadband, and adoption.

Powell suggested that the deployment gap had been narrowed considerably with that 93% reach and the rest of that proving a challenge. But Genachowski said there was still a deployment gap, saying of the 25 million Americans still without broadband: "We have to get there." That will include by migrating the Universal Service Fund to broadband, which he said was "deep" into that transformation with cable's help.

On the issue of how the FCC should regulate the industry, Genachowski suggested he shared Powell's belief in regulatory humility. He said he encouraged the staff to focus "in a dispassionate way in asking what exactly are our goals, what are the obstacles or challenges to meeting those goals, and what are the best ways in achieving those goals being neutral about whether government action is the way to do it." He said there aren't really any "pre-cooked answers" to hard problem and that the agency needed to weigh costs and benefits that have, again to borrow from Powell as he acknowledged, "appropriate humility about what government can accomplish and what the risks are if government makes a mistake."