Day One General Session — History to Repeat Itself?

In welcoming Cable Show attendees to his incredible city, new Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel called upon the industry to bridge the digital divide between rich and poor.  After detailing the positive impact the industry continues to have on his state’s economy, Hizzoner talked about the importance of bringing broadband to all Chicagoans.

“For every percent growth in penetration, broadband creates 15K jobs,” said Emanuel, adding that of all the aspects of his city’s infrastructure, including bridges, tunnels, roads and schools, “Broadband is at the top of the list of priorities for my vision for this city’s economic future.”

In all candor, I didn’t think twice about Emanuel’s call for action, until a few moments later when new NCTA President & CEO Michael Powell got up and started ticking off some of the highlights of cable’s 60 year history.  As he was doing so, I remember thinking, “Why is he giving a history lesson to a roomful of people who lived the history – or in some cases, wrote it?”

Then it hit me.  Sixty years ago, at the very first NCTA convention, this was a very different country; one that was largely rural, significantly under-educated, and comprised of entire populations of people living outside the footprints of our major media centers.

If you trace the United States’ development into a world power, you’ll see it happened right around the time cable and independent telephone providers started to democratize not only information, but also the paths of communication that connected Americans from all walks of life.  Connecting them, in fact, in ways they’d never imagined possible.

Mayor Emanuel is absolutely right.  Rising tides do indeed float all boats.  Just as three generations ago this industry helped transform a young, largely agrarian nation into a model of democratic ideals, the industry once again has an incredible opportunity to help America re-invent itself.

If we can continue to work towards making broadband available to everyone, especially our poorest, neediest and most underprivileged citizens – especially the youngest and most motivated among them – we will be providing those people the very tools they’ll need to rise up and break the cycle of poverty that continues to act as a drag on our entire economy.

I’m not trying to get all Tom Joad on you here.  I’m simply saying that what we do in this industry is more than just a business, and what we mean to our fellow Americans continues to pay dividends in ways many of us fail to comprehend.

So, while 68,000 additional Illinois jobs and a state-wide investment of $60 billion is an incredible legacy by any stretch of the imagination, at some point down the road all those things may become a mere footnote to cable’s real gift to America.

[Editor’s note: See Multichannel News‘ write-up: Cable Show 2011: Powell: Cable Helps Power American Dream. You can read more about cable’s positive impact on the U.S. economy here.]

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To read more from M.C. Antil, visit his blog at mcantil.com.

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