American Cable Association executives and cable operator members got down to brass tacks yesterday on why they should get some of the money set aside for broadband stimulus.

According to the ACA, it can do a better job than other service providers at putting the $7.2 billion in federal economic spending funding to work in order to improve broadband speeds and technology in rural areas.

"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 yesterday to help kickoff the ACA's 16th Annual Washington, D.C., Summit, a three-day event that provided hundreds of ACA members with the change to hear directly from the 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 ACA counts more than 900 small- and medium-size cable operators in its membership.

President Obama signed the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in February, which included $7.2 billion in broadband grants and loans. The broadband stimulus funds are to be allocated by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and the Rural Utilities Service (RUS), in consultation with the Federal Communications Commission.

Speaking to the same audience, ACA President and CEO Matthew Polka said that if small cable operators received broadband grants and loans, the 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-size 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.

The 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.

The NTIA and RUS are in the process of sorting out how, and to whom, the $7.2 billion will be dispersed, but have indicated that some of the funds will be available by fall.

In its NTIA and RUS filings, the ACA has asked the organizations to dedicate any funds going to unserved areas toward last-mile projects. Funds used in underserved areas should, in the 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.

The ACA has also asked that smaller cable operators, generally those with 5,000 or fewer subscribers, be allowed to have “short-form” applications when they are asking for less than $5 million to save money on consultants, engineers and lawyers. 

The 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.

ACA executives also addressed other issues of 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 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.

As for 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."

Also at the Summit, an ACA panel urged members to take advantage of the changed environment in Washington, D.C., which includes new members of Congress, the Obama administration and changes in the leadership of the Federal Communications Commission.

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