The National Cable & Telecommunications Association could be seeing a familiar face at the Commerce Department as it makes its case for getting access to billions in broadband spectrum funds.
At stake is $7.2 billion in economic stimulus grant money that is being divvied up by the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the Agriculture Department's rural utilities grant program, with an assist from the FCC.
Veteran cable industry lawyer Cameron Kerry has been nominated by President Obama to become general counsel of the Commerce Department. Kerry, younger brother of Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), has represented the cable industry in federal and state court, as well as before the FCC on issues ranging from rate regulation and franchising to FCC license and rulemaking issues. Kerry has represented the cable industry as an attorney with Mintz Levin in Boston and Washington. He has also taught and written about cable and telecommunications law.
Serving the 'unserved'
The potential appointment comes as the cable industry attempts to make its case to the NTIA that it should not structure the broadband stimulus grant program in a way that discourages investment by private companies with a track record of success. The industry is also trying to persuade the NTIA that it should not define “unserved” areas in a way that underwrites broadband service in places where it is already being provided.
Asked by B&C last week whether the gist of the industry's argument was that it didn't want the government subsidizing cable, NCTA President Kyle McSlarrow said that was indeed the case. He called it a situation in which the industry's top concern dovetailed with what should also be a priority for government policymakers.
“Why would you waste money to provide service in areas that already have it when you've got actual challenges with unserved America, or adoption challenges with low-income households, where you can really take this money and move the needle in a significant way?” McSlarrow asked.
(NCTA issued a broadband policy paper last week titled “Moving the Needle.”)
Cable critics say the state of broadband deployment is woeful. But McSlarrow says it is “absurd” to consider the investment of hundreds of billions of dollars by cable and the telecoms in rolling out broadband anything but a success story. He claims that the sectors have reached more than 90% of the country, providing increased speeds and flat pricing.
Cable critics argue that “underserved” can mean slow Internet speeds, high prices, or one provider rather than several to choose from.