We come together just once a year as a whole industry. We gather in person, in one place, and usually in just one building. When we look around, we see engineers, TV producers, marketers, technologists and more. Within eyesight, you can see just how much it takes to make cable tick.
At this year’s Cable Show in Los Angeles, we will be together once again to not only celebrate our successes and challenges, but also to make connections, consider new ideas and forecast our future. We are gathering as a community, one that is focused on a common goal.
But while we connect in one place just once a year, people in every corner of the country and world are connecting every second of the day with their own communities. Teachers in West Virginia are talking online to others in Nebraska to share learning tools and lesson plans. Friends in either corner of the country are watching their favorite program together while video chatting. And families are finding and greeting long-lost cousins an ocean away. They are sharing stories, their lives and interests with one another.
How does it all happen? They need networks — powerful and open networks — to connect.
Cable’s man-made networks of wires, fiber, towers, poles, modems, routers and airwaves are the glue making these connections possible. Cable operators have invested more than $210 billion since 1996 to build and upgrade these robust networks that are available to 93 percent of American homes. The more than 400,000 miles of fiber-optic wires criss-crossing our nation are enough to circle the globe 16 times.
The power, potential and importance of the Internet is undisputed. The Internet has become fundamental to business, education and everyday communication, and our society depends on it. Yet, it’s this essential nature that has fueled a heated discussion about if the Internet should be treated as a public utility like our roads, electricity and drinking water. If simplicity ruled, the argument for the public utility model would win. But when you take a closer look, our public utilities suffer from chronic underinvestment and are crumbling.
When you combine the funding needed to bring our nation’s highways, electric grid and drinking water pipes up to standard, the number approaches a staggering $2 trillion. No wonder that the former U.S. Secretary of Transportation called America “one big pothole.” Is this the fate that we want for the most important communications network of our era? I certainly don’t.
Not so ironically, while our nation’s public infrastructure has been falling into disrepair, America’s private Internet providers since the mid-90’s have invested $1.3 trillion to make our Internet world class. Private broadband investment in the U.S. has become the envy of the European Union which is scrambling to reshape its regulatory structure to give companies more incentive to invest and upgrade their networks.
But these networks are more than costly physical infrastructure. These networks are the conduits that enable our communities to share, learn and prosper. And let’s not forget about the hours of entertainment and the platform for creativity that the network has become.
When we deploy networks, we strengthen the bonds of families and communities. We lay the platform for collaboration and learning. We find better stories and different ways to entertain. We spark the engines of business and innovation.
We build community.
Michael Powell is president and CEO of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association.
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