NATIONAL HARBOR, MD., April 28, 2009 - Addressing hundreds of independent cable operators from across the country this morning, the leaders of the American Cable Association declared that small cable companies can do better than anybody at putting $7.2 billion in federal economic stimulus funding to work as a means of improving broadband speeds, service and technology in rural America.
"No group is more poised to deliver the benefits of broadband to unserved or underserved homes -- who are intended to be the direct beneficiaries of the broadband program -- than the members of the ACA," said ACA chairman Steve Friedman, who is COO of Wave Broadband in Kirkland, Wash.
Friedman delivered his remarks to help kick off ACA's 16th Annual Washington, D.C., Summit, a three-day event that provided hundreds of ACA members with valuable opportunities to hear directly from ACA's leadership, Capitol Hill lawmakers and staff, and officials from the new Obama Administration who will directly affect telecommunications policy over the next four years.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 included $7.2 billion in broadband grants and loans, to be allocated by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and the Rural Utilities Service (RUS) in consultation with the Federal Communications Commission. Funds are expected to flow in the fall.
Speaking to the same audience, ACA president and CEO Matthew M. Polka stressed that if small cable operators received broadband grants and loans, NTIA and RUS could rest assured that the money would help create jobs and complete projects in a timely fashion, two key goals highlighted by Congress in the new stimulus law.
"In recent filings with all three federal agencies, ACA has stated in clear terms that small and medium-sized operators are ideal candidates for receiving much of the $7.2 billion, because these private entities have the financial, operational and technical experience running reliable, sustainable networks in small towns and rural areas," Polka said in his welcoming remarks.
NTIA and RUS are charged with ensuring that funds under their supervision are used to introduce broadband into "unserved areas" for the first time and improve it in "underserved areas" where end user speeds have not kept pace with top speeds in many major urban areas.
In its NTIA and RUS filings, ACA has urged NTIA and RUS to dedicate any funds going to unserved areas toward last-mile projects. Funds used in underserved areas should, in ACA's view, focus on building and improving middle-mile facilities that connect local broadband networks to Internet access points that can be located many, many miles away from each other.
"Nothing would do more to enhance broadband speeds in areas of rural America considered underserved than access to an open, nondiscriminatory, high-capacity middle-mile connection to the Internet backbone," Polka said.
ACA has also emphasized the need for a streamlined application process for "smaller entities," generally those with 5,000 subscribers or fewer. Those meeting the "smaller entities" definition should be able to rely on a short-form application when seeking less than $5 million.
"We can't afford to hire an army of consultants, engineers, and lawyers to fill out long and tedious grant applications," Friedman said.
ACA's top officials addressed other issues of vital importance to small cable operators, including reauthorization of the Satellite Home Viewer Act (SHVA). Pending SHVA legislation could include a provision that allows satellite TV providers the ability to offer their subscribers TV station signals from a different market in the same state.
"Put simply, if DirecTV and Dish Network get to offer their subscribers access to TV stations based in the same state but assigned to different markets, by all means ACA members' customers deserve and should be granted the same privilege," Friedman said.
Finally, on retransmission consent, Polka said: "ACA still believes retransmission consent rules should be changed to reflect free-market principles. We are prepared, and we stand ready to address these issues with Washington when they move on them."
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About the American Cable Association
Based in Pittsburgh, the American Cable Association is a trade organization representing more than 900 smaller and medium-sized, independent cable companies who provide broadband services for more than 7 million cable subscribers primarily located in rural and smaller suburban markets across America. Through active participation in the regulatory and legislative process in Washington, D.C., ACA's members work together to advance the interests of their customers and ensure the future competitiveness and viability of their business. For more information, visit http://www.americancable.org/
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