Commissioner McDowell's Remarks to the National Urban League
THE HONORABLE ROBERT M. MCDOWELL
FEDERAL COMMUNICATIONS COMMISSION
NATIONAL URBAN LEAGUE POLICY INSTITUTE AND TIME WARNER CABLE RESEARCH
PROGRAM ON DIGITAL COMMUNICATIONS“BROADBAND, MARKET TRENDS, AND THE EMPOWERMENT OF INDIVIDUALS”
NATIONAL CABLE & TELECOMMUNICATIONS ASSOCIATION
MAY 2, 2012[AS PREPARED FOR DELIVERY]
I thank the National Urban League Policy Institute and Time Warner Cable
Research Program on Digital Communications for your efforts on broadband adoption issues.
In particular, I also thank Marc Morial, for his leadership at the National Urban League,
Madura Wijewardena, Chanelle Hardy, and Valerie Wilson, for their work authoring this
broadband adoption report, and Fernando Laguarda for his involvement with the partnership
between Time Warner Cable and the National Urban League.
As many of you know, last fall the FCC accomplished a monumental task by
reforming the high cost program of the Universal Service Fund (USF). We repurposed it to
focus on broadband while adhering to a budget for the first time in its history. Not only was
our effort historic, it was bipartisan and unanimous as well. Our reforms will help ensure the
subsidy supports deploying high-speed Internet technologies to those Americans who are
currently unserved by any broadband provider. Although our overhaul was a major
accomplishment, the FCC has much more to do to implement USF reform and in rescuing the
fund’s failing contribution methodology; that is, who is going to pay for these subsidies and
how? With that in mind, I look forward to continuing our collegial work on these issues at
the FCC, and hopefully with two new Commissioners.
I agree with our hosts today that in addition to expanding broadband deployment,
another key component to ensuring academic and career success for Americans is improving
the broadband adoption rate in our country. Increased broadband adoption will help grow
America’s economy as well.
And, today we have before us some good news. The National Urban League’s
study has found that the overall broadband adoption gap between African Americans and
white Americans narrowed between 2009 and 2010. Of course, more can be done. Simply
put, let us all work together to ensure that the day when there is no gap comes sooner rather
One way to close that gap is to examine, respect and encourage already existing
market trends. American consumers are choosing to “cut the cord” as they purchase wireless
broadband services over fixed wireline offerings. Already, more than 30 percent of
America’s households are wireless only for their phone service.1 Let’s connect that powerful
fact with another one: minorities are more likely to use mobile devices than whites,
according to a Pew Research study.2 Furthermore, minorities are more likely to use their
mobile devices for Internet access.3 And, when we take a step back from these details we
can see an encouraging trend more clearly: the Internet is going mobile, and American
minorities are leading the way.
1 STEPHEN J. BLUMBERG & JULIAN V. LUKE, WIRELESS SUBSTITUTION: EARLY RELEASE OF ESTIMATES
FROM THE NATIONAL HEALTH INTERVIEW SURVEY, JANUARY–JUNE 2011 (National Center for Health
Statistics, Center of Disease Control and Prevention, 2011).
2 PEW INTERNET & AMERICAN LIFE PROJECT, MOBILE ACCESS 2010 (2010).
As government adopts policies in this arena, and as the private sector invests and
innovates, all of us should work together to determine how we can strengthen these natural
market trends. We should avoid adopting policies that may have the best of intentions but
ultimately backfire or undermine the very goals they seek to attain. Allowing consumers to
make informed choices in a competitive marketplace best serves the public interest.
This maxim holds especially true when we examine even more good news. When
it comes to the ability to access the world’s most valuable commodity, information,
American consumers have never been more empowered. Market-led leaps in computing
power and decreases in its cost have spurred the most advancement. For example, in 1965,
MIT had its own computer, and that was a big deal for a university back then. It cost U.S.
$11 million in today’s dollars.4 Today, the microprocessor in your mobile device is more
than one million times smaller, one million times less expensive and a thousand times more
powerful.5 That equates to more than a billion-fold increase in the amount of computing
power you can buy per dollar.6
Put another way, who could have imagined at the time of the first moon landing in
1969, when America was still in fresh mourning over the loss of Dr. Martin Luther King in
the previous year, that all Americans, including African Americans, could have far more
computing power in their hands than the entire Apollo program for a few dollars per month,
all within less than one lifetime? Within the next 25 years, experts estimate that we will
enjoy yet another billion-fold increase in processing power for the same dollar.7
4 See Ray Kurzweil, Making the World a Billion Times Better, WASH. POST, Apr. 13, 2008, at B4.
5 See Michael Green, Ray Kurtzweil on ‘The Singularity’ Future, Information Week (July 3, 2010).
7 See Kurtzweil, supra.
Exponential increases in capacity and decreases in costs have resulted in more
information being shared with more people and that helps all Americans including people of
color. Cisco estimates that by 2014, the Internet will be nearly four times larger than it is
now.8 It would take more than five years for one person to watch the amount of video that
will cross global IP networks every second in 2015.9 Put another way, during each second in
2015, one million minutes of video content will travel through the Internet. These
developments are all the more astounding when you consider that the first use of the strange
word “Internet” in the Washington Post was on September 26, 1988 … in the far back of the
financial section in an advertisement. And for every job the Internet disrupts, it creates 2.6
new jobs, according to a recent McKinsey study.10 How far we have come, and how fast …
all due to naturally evolving market trends.
If we encourage these trends, rather than create obstacles that may impede them, I
am optimistic that we will continue to enjoy the fruits of the greatest explosion of
entrepreneurial brilliance in human history. The cycle of investment, innovation and
competition will continue to grow the economy, create jobs, and improve the human
condition unlike any other time in history, if we allow it.
Thank you for inviting me to this terrific event today. The unveiling of your
research is very inspiring. Your thoughtful and scholarly work will provide many in the
8 See Cisco Visual Networking Index: Forecast and Methodology, 2009 – 2015 (Jun. 2, 2011) at 2.
10 McKinsey Global Institute, Internet Matters: The Nets Sweeping Impact on Growth, Jobs, and
Prosperity, MCKINSEY & CO., at 3, 21 (May 2011),
visited Feb. 21, 2012).
private and public sectors with salient statistics that will yield great benefits. Your
contribution is an important component to a multifaceted effort to ensure America continues
to lead the world in the 21st Century.
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