David Cohen: Broadband Access Is Central Civil Rights Issue
Getting broadband to every household, regardless of race,
color, creed or economic situation is this century's central civil rights
struggle, and Comcast is "all in" for that effort, as well as
reflecting the full diversity of the country in hiring, investment and
Comcast executive VP David Cohen told an audience of
minority media entrepreneurs Wednesday that the country did not have a
broadband speed problem, unless it was defined as the slow speed of adoption,
which he said was intolerable.
Cohen was delivering the keynote speech at the Minority
Media and Telecommunications council's Hall of Fame luncheon at the annual
Access to Capital Conference.
Comcast has been a leader in providing low-income households
with school-aged children access to low-cost broadband via its Internet
Essentials program. That point was made by MMTC chair Julia Johnson, who welcomed
Cohen to the podium as "a member of the family" -- she called him
"Uncle David" -- and lauded
the diversity efforts of both Cohen and his company (Cohen said it was the best
introduction he had ever gotten and wished he could take it on the road with
"Civil rights advocates of 50 years ago fought and
ultimately won the battle for equal rights," he said, pointing out the
upcoming 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech.
"But the battle for equal opportunity continues. And that
battle won't be won," he said, "so long as we have people stranded on
the wrong side of the digital divide because broadband technology is fast
becoming the most essential tool for full participation in American
Cohen indicated bridging that divide was more than a dream.
"Achieving digital equality really is possible," he said, but added
that it would take a public-private partnership linking "the broadband
industry, Silicon Valley, nonprofit organizations, schools, the faith-based
community and government."
The FCC has already taken a page from Comcast by launching a
government/industry low-income adoption effort mirroring that of Internet
While he was on the subject of broadband, Cohen said it was
time to put to rest, "once and for all," the myth that the U.S. was
lagging in broadband deployment.
He said that rap was based on old (from 2009), cherry-picked
data. Even if it wasn't, he added, the U.S. by even that measure has "shot
up" from No. 22 to No. 8. He said, and then repeated for emphasis, that if
U.S. states were individually counted in world broadband rankings, they would
account for eight of the top 10 regions in average connection speed.
"About 85% of U.S. households already have access to
cable networks capable of speeds of 100 megs per second or more --compared to
about 20% just four years ago," he said, thanks to $1.2 trillion in
private sector investment from 1996 to 2011, most without government guarantees
[loans] or subsidies.
He said that investment came in good economic times and bad.
"Broadband providers haven't been sunshine investors. When the economic
skies got dark, we didn't run for cover."
Cohen said that measured by speed, Comcast has the fastest
speeds of any national provider, has boosted speeds 11 times in as many years,
and that most of that came with no price increases so that, as measured by cost
per megabit, broadband cost has actually decreased by 87%.
But Cohen said the campaign for diversity
extends beyond broadband. He said the cause Comcast was committed to was making
sure not only that broadband was available to every home, but that corporate
America was diverse and inclusive, and that the media, both corporately and in
its role of sending images to all America via cable or broadcast, entertainment
or news programming, reflects the full cultural and ethnic diversity of the
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Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.