Companies shape long-term communications around FCC broadband plan

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released its national broadband report this week, kicking off a wave of news coverage about issues like expanded access and Internet speed.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released its national broadband report this week, kicking off a wave of news coverage about issues like expanded access and Internet speed.

Even as healthcare reform legislation continues to take much of the policy and media spotlight, the attention garnered by the release of the 376-page report signals the important role that the technology and telecommunications industries will play in shaping broadband in the US.

“This isn't a policy debate about an arcane issue,” says Joe Farren, VP of global public affairs for Waggener Edstrom Worldwide. “This is something that touches people regularly every day. People care about it. It's a political issue with what we call real voter intensity.”

For companies involved in this issue, it was crucial to launch a communications plan in advance of the broadband plan with messaging that offered solutions considered viable by policymakers.

“When the report is being considered in policymakers' minds, [companies should] put out there a very clear challenge that needs to be addressed and then a very clear and politically viable solution,” Farren says.

Companies like T-Mobile began speaking to The Washington Post and The Associated Press in the fourth quarter of 2009 as part of an effort to communicate its stance on issues like spectrum.

Additionally, companies ranging from General Electric to Cisco Systems announced support for the plan. But others are preparing a long-term communications strategy that will be aimed at both the public and Washington.

“Tech companies, in general, have become increasingly sophisticated and mature about the need to communicate and how important DC is to them and their business models,” says Duncan Burns, SVP and director of the Washington technology practice at Hill & Knowlton.

The day before the FCC's report was released, Sprint posted a video on YouTube featuring Vonya McCann, SVP of government affairs for the company, talking about why Sprint supports a national broadband plan. The video is aimed at the FCC, policymakers, and consumers, says Crystal Davis, communications manager for Sprint in Washington.

“We want our customers to know this is how we feel about it, how we're working with the FCC, and how we're a major player,” Davis says. The company released its support for the broadband plan in both traditional and online media formats.

“This is a pretty big, bold, complicated media proposal from the FCC,” Burns says. “There are a lot of complex issues and I think people understood that they need to get their messaging out there as soon as they could.”

Anne Veigle, VP of media affairs for US Telecom, notes via e-mail that experts at the trade association are studying the plan and will prepare for specific rules or changes that might be proposed by the FCC in the future.

She notes Walter McCormick, the organization's president and CEO, will also be participating in panel discussions, including one at the Technology Policy Institute, to talk about the report.

“What's at stake here is major for a lot of tech companies, and telcos, and broadcasters, and content providers,” says H&K's Burns. “But, it's also major for education companies and school and rural areas and development companies and international US competitiveness.”

One of the challenges tech and telecom companies could face is educating the public about the need for broadband, given the economic challenges and public concerns about government spending, while aligning the messages with that of the FCC.

“They realized from previous go-arounds that they had to get their messaging and positioning out early,” says Burns. “And really I think the goal for all of them…is to focus on the themes and messages that resonate with what the FCC is trying to achieve.”

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