FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski helped launch John King’s CNN show Friday as one of the first guests on the online incarnation of John King, USA, which launches on the linear channel Monday at 7 p.m.
King took to the vaunted video wall to show where broadband penetration was low and talked with Genachowski about the digital divide between rural and urban, rich and poor.
When he asked whether broadband was going to replace broadcasting and cable (as Genachowski’s former boss, Reed Hundt suggested had always been Hundt’s goal as chairman), the chairman sidestepped a straight answer with his usual finesse.
Below is a rush transcript of what transpired online earlier today.
JOHN KING, ANCHOR, JOHN KING, USA: Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski joins us now to go wall to wall.
The FCC wants to give 90 percent of Americans access to affordable high-speed Internet service within the next decade. It’s a lofty goal of $25 billion to do this at a time the government is running record deficits. And a lot of people say, why should the government do this? If it’s such a great thing and it’ll improve productivity and it’ll improve our communications superhighway, why wouldn’t the private sector rush in and do it? Why does the government have to get involved?
JULIUS GENACHOWSKI, FCC CHAIRMAN: The private sector, in fact, the core pieces, the core elements of the plan, our strategy to reduce barriers, create incentives to make sure we get, literally, the hundreds of billions of dollars we need to from private companies to build out high-speed Internet. This is about — the core point here as we rebuild our economy, we’ve got to tackle the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century. Other countries are, we need to as well.
KING: I want you to come with me and take a look.
KING: I want to take you over to the Magic Wall. And the way I just want to show, we launch the program online, it’s one of the reasons we wanted to have you in here, we’re doing something special today and we’re broadcasting streaming, live on CNN Live. You see our website to the left of that, our show website, and up above the communication. And you know this well in the social network community, it’s on Twitter follow (ph) they’re talking about this and other issues, on our Facebook page as well. We have people giving us a little critique of the program, sending in some questions.
And I wanted to come over here to the Magic Wall because I want to talk about the points you’re talking about. The issue is expanding access, and so let’s take a look at the map. This is — the darker of the color, the higher the percentage of Internet access. If it’s dark blue, nearly everybody has access to high-speed broadband, and the lighter colors obviously where there problems are, lower. And if you look at the map, it probably jumps out at you, but let’s help people bring it closer into perspective. There is — this is one of the areas of a digital divide, rural areas well behind the cities and the suburbs in getting high-speed access.
So my question is, as you try to do more, will the same old rules apply? Meaning, those who live in the rural areas, they’re less populated, they tend to be poorer, so where the money is tends to have more political power. Will these people get the short end of the stick again?
GENACHOWSKI: Well, I think a couple of things. The first thing, when you look at this map, ask yourself, if this was our electricity grid or our telephone service, would we tolerate it in this country. Because our information grid, our communications grid, our high-speed Internet grid is going to be the platform for innovation, job creation, economic growth in the 21 century.
This shows the access issues, as you mentioned. Those tend to be more in rural areas. As we did with electricity and telephone service, we’ve got to get all Americans connected to this grid. All small businesses, all kids wherever they are.
On the adoption issue that you mentioned, those apply in rural areas, but we’ve got big issues in urban areas too. And so at the end of the day, moving forward on broadband will help urban and rural America and we’ve got to do both.
KING: Let’s take a look at some of the other demographics because like many things in life, how much you make has a lot to say about whether you have access and in this case, access to broadband service. If you make less than $20,000 a year, you are much less likely to have access to this than somebody who makes $75,000 a year or more. How do you deal with that? And again, some would ask, especially in the Internet, the community of freethinkers and free spirits and freedom, why should the government be involved?
GENACHOWSKI: Right. Well, we’ve got to tackle this as a country. Here’s why, you know, five years ago, ten years ago, if you were unemployed and looking for a job, you’d get your newspaper and look at the classified ads. Today, those ads have moved to the Internet. If you want to find a job, you need to have Internet access. In order to tackle our finding jobs issue, we’ve got to get folks online. We’re going to get more jobs created if we have high-speed infrastructure everywhere. And by the way, there are jobs out there that require more and more digital skills that a lot of people are unqualified for.
Some of these statistics go straight to affordability, some people can’t afford it. Others go to people not having the skills, not understanding the benefits. There’s no silver bullet, we need a multipronged strategy to tackle these problems.
KING: Let’s take a quick look at “by education,” because that’s another source of the digital divide. If you are less educated, less than high school, you are much less likely to have access to this. This is almost the chicken and egg argument, I guess. If you get more access to those on the lower end of the education scale, do you in fact end up increasing their education by doing so?
GENACHOWSKI: This is a huge opportunity and a huge challenge for the country. When I travel around to schools and I talk to teachers, here’s what they say — half of my kids don’t have broadband access, what am I supposed to do. I want to give them assignments that teach them digital skills, that use the Internet for research, that get them ready for a 21st century economy. If I give them those assignments, half my kids can’t do them so I’m leaving them behind. If I don’t give the kids the assignment, I’m disserving the kids who do have broadband.
So we all have to work together to make sure we have the connectivity here that we do for electricity and telephone services. As important.
KING: This is our brand-new set. We just built it for the new show. Is it at risk of being soon an antique? Is the idea that broadcast and cable television will become extinct if you have this ultra-high-speed broadband for everybody? Will all of broadcasting — I’ll use the term — shift to broadband?
GENACHOWSKI: Well, look, in the future, starting now, text/audio/video are going to be moving around through wires, through wireless in digital bits. What matters is, you know, is video still going to be relevant? Absolutely. Is news and journalism and investigative journalism going to still be relevant? Absolutely.
I think it’s great that your experimenting with new formats for news and information. It’s what we need.
KING: Is the world going to end up (INAUDIBLE)?
GENACHOWSKI: Yes. No, no, we are — listen, the rest of the country — sorry, the rest of the world are tackling these issues, we need to lead the world in innovation.
Our plan, by the way, just to go back to where you started, is revenue neutral for the public. We’re going to unleash Spectrum and recover a significant Spectrum for auction. And the kinds of things that we suggest spending money on, like building a network for our first responders in this country — firefighters, police officers, ambulance — that’s something that we need to. The private sector’s not going to build that on its own and we need to make a decision to do it so that we can save lives.
KING: Appreciate you coming in. Hope you keep in touch as all this unfolds. It is fascinating.