Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski gently prodded telecommunications companies to build out their broadband networks to dramatically increase the number of homes that have access to high-speed Internet.
The effort is vital to the nation's economic health, Genachowski told several hundred people attending the National Cable & Telecommunications Assn. annual convention in Chicago on Wednesday. About 67% of the country's homes now have high-speed or broadband Internet, the chairman said.
"Broadband access is absolutely key in helping us recover from the terrible economic situation of the last few years -- and making sure we have sustainable growth," said Genachowski, who heads the agency that serves as watchdog of the public airwaves. Genachowski was interviewed at the convention by NCTA President and former FCC Chairman Michael Powell.
Genachowski announced that he would form a task force of government and industry executives to figure out ways to blanket the country with high-speed Internet lines. Without access to the Internet, Genachowski stressed, many people are hobbled in their efforts to find meaningful employment. Four-fifths of Fortune 500 companies use the Internet to advertise openings and recruit employees, Genachowski said.
The cable industry is a captive audience because, for many cable companies, high-speed Internet service has become a faster-growing, and higher-margin, area of their businesses than the traditional packages of cable television channels. Still, extending cable lines into rural areas is a costly proposition for the companies.
Genachowski singled out Cox Communications and Comcast Corp. for being leaders in rolling out broadband. Earlier this year, Comcast committed to making broadband Internet more widely available, and more affordable, as part of its agreement with the FCC to win approval of its takeover of media giant NBCUniversal.
"Broadband is what powers the American dream," Genachowski said. "I don't think we can be satisfied with this pace of adoption. It's just not good enough."
-- Meg James
Photo: NCTA President and former FCC Chairman Michael Powell (L) chats with current FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski. Credit: John Gress/Reuters.