Cable industry plans discounted broadband service for low-income students

The cable industry's biggest trade group wants to give low-income middle school students discounted broadband service.

The proposal would require the government to subsidize a larger program to provide computer safety training and equipment to children who otherwise can't afford to subscribe to broadband.

The National Cable and Telecommunications Association has proposed a two-year pilot program called "Adoption Plus," or "A+"  to target students in grades 6 to 9 who are eligible for free or reduced school lunches. NCTA estimates it would help 3.5 million students (or 1.8 million families) and would cost the cable industry $572 million dollars.

Under the program, companies including Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cox, Cablevision and Bright House, will provide half-priced broadband service and modems and free installation for students who enroll in the program. Enrolled students would then receive computer safety training and, if needed, a computer--all subsidized by the federal government.

Kyle McSlarrow, president of NCTA, said he does not yet have commitments from other private companies like Dell or HP to provide discounted computers. Broadband stimulus funds could be used to support the digital literacy program, but school systems would have to apply for the funds. McSlarrow said stimulus money is the only funding stream he is aware of that could pay for the program.

"There's no silver bullet that's going to solve this (adoption problem)," McSlarrow said on a conference call announcing the program.  "If you need to tackle the problem, you need to do it in a way that's comprehensive."

About a third of Americans do not subscribe to broadband service, even if it is available to them.

Blair Levin, head of the Federal Communication Commission's task force that is putting together a national broadband strategy, applauded the program on the call. NCTA has filed the proposal with both the FCC and National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which is overseeing some of the broadband stimulus grants.

The proposal has not been approved by either agency. But Levin said he "looked forward to more discussions" about it.