ToledoTel COO to FCC: '100 percent of people' need broadband

Panelists at the FCC's 2013 Broadband Summit on Feb. 7 stressed availability and affordability as the two major factors that would determine the future of broadband adoption.

Dave Davidson, SVP and general manager of Frontier Communications (Nasdaq: FTR) in Ohio; Bret Perkins, VP of external and government affairs at Comcast (Nasdaq: CMCSA); Elaine Divelbliss, director and senior counsel at Sprint Nextel (NYSE: S)/Virgin Mobile; and Dale Merten, COO at Toledo Telephone Company spoke about the initiatives their companies have taken to encourage broadband penetration and uptake at a panel about industry best practices for increasing broadband adoption.

Davidson, Merten and Perkins all stressed the importance of grassroots efforts in reaching out to potential customers and convincing them to subscribe to broadband.

Davidson said Frontier had given away over 150,000 computers to customers who subscribe to the company's broadband program, adding "these were customers that we would not have gotten through our traditional marketing." He said his company realized "relevance and education [and] working more with those community organizations, with libraries, with senior centers" would help them reach otherwise untapped markets.

"We wanted to cast a very wide net," added Merten of Washington state-based ToledoTel's efforts. "Grassroots worked. We started going door to door… that's when we really started to see a participation break in the program. The human touch, the interaction--that's what really helped with our outreach efforts."

Perkins addressed the socioeconomic element of Comcast's initiative. "The program is targeted specifically to the free and reduced-price lunch population," he said. "They are offered three things: broadband Internet service for $9.95 a month, the ability to purchase a computer for less than $150 and access to digital literacy materials in print, online and in person."

Divelbliss suggested portability and a pay-as-you-go option are aspects that helped Sprint and Virgin succeed with their program, which offers a USB stick that allows users to connect to the Internet on a per-use or monthly basis.

For $40 per month, customers can get unlimited access, said Divelbliss, pointing out that "in rural communities [where broadband might not be available], if you can get Sprint wireless you can use the little USB device to get Internet access that any home could make good use of." She added Sprint and Virgin are still testing price points of the product.

The panelists also agreed about the importance of educating different levels of Internet users, from those who had never before seen a mouse to those who wanted to learn how to play Angry Birds.

"We asked our participants, 'What do you want to learn?'" said Merten. "Broadband adoption, I find, is a very personal thing… Maybe it's okay for us to acknowledge that 100 percent of the people aren't going to take it, but I will say 100 percent of the people should have access to it."

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