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Kerry Pushes Tech Partnership As Economic Engine

Senator John Kerry (D-MA) kicked off the NCTA convention in Washington by telling the industry that it needed to look beyond "the great telecommunications food fights that dominate Capitol Hill and K Street" to focus on the real key to their future, which he said was partnering with government on scientific and techological research.

In a speech to the National Cable & Telecommunications Associations' Key Contact Conference/State Regional Executives Dinner. Kerry, who chairs the Senate Communications, Technology and Internet Subcommittee, assured his audience that he was teeing up a full plate of issues. He dispensed with the laundry list speech to instead argue for looking beyond the trees to the "next horizon" for the telecommunications industry, which he said must be driven by renewed and sustained technology investment, particularly for improving broadband speeds and deployment, which he said would help drive the economy.

Kerry said the economic stimulus package's $7.2 billion in broaodband investments has to be seen as a downpayment on a national strategy to deliver broadband to "rural Americans who can't access it and urban Americans who can't afford it."

Back in 1996, he was on the Commerce Committee working on a Telecommunications Act rewrite that concentrated on telephone lines, Kerry pointed out. "Boy did we miss the curve on that one," he said. "Just a short span of time later, much of the law, especially the part that dealt with long-distance service, was already obsolete."

His point was that almost as they were rewriting the bill, technology was already rewriting the businesses, "faster than we could react." The explosion of wireless, Internet and digital compression technologies were driven by government grant programs, he said, but argued that Presdient Bush had "done his best to kill basic research programs, calling it "one of the most anti-science administrations in American history."

His larger point, he told his audience, was that "the issues and events that have largely made your companies great are not the [ones] you spent the vast majority of your time lobbying--because technology has moved so fast."

Kerry had plenty of praise for cable, saying the industry had done its part "when it comes to investment."

Kerry gave the industry a shout out for being the first to roll out high-speed, affordable Internet, including investing $145 billion to build a "state of the arrt, fiber-rich network."

"Cable contributes $227 billion to the nation's gross economic output. It supports 1.5 million workers and generates more than $60 billion annually in personal income," he said.

Now, said Kerry, government needs to partner with industry to make sure the nation's competitiveness is not compromised by the economic downturn. And he cautioned that the economy can't become an excuse for not making that investment.

"Roughly 20% of our economy is dependent on communications industries in one respect of another," he said. "You all have the capacity to create jobs and drive the economy forward as we try to steer our way out of this mess. And to do that, we ned to focus on how we can encouarge the same kind of technological innovation that has driven the communications revolution over the past 20 years."