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Cable on Capitol Hill

The National Cable and Telecom Convention kicks off Thursday in Washington D.C., and the location is no coincidence.

Hundreds of Senators and Representatives will walk the show floor to learn more about the business that's getting quite a bit of attention on Capitol Hill. There's $7 billion in government funding for high-speed broadband, thanks to a bill backed by Sen. Jay Rockefeller, and Rep. Rick Baucher. And now, debate is raging about how that money should be deployed.

The cable industry is so huge, that $7 billion is just half the amount of money the cable industry is expecting to invest in upgrades over the next two years. Still, that $7 billion will be the key to either reach Americans who don't have cable access or to upgrade existing cable networks' speeds.

And that's the question: should the money help cable operators reach un-served rural areas? And should it help low-income consumers by subsidizing the cost of broadband? Or, on the other hand, should the money be used to generate faster speeds and move into next-generation technology?

The head of the National Cable and Telecom Association, Kyle McSlarrow, is a proponent of the former. He says the priority is finishing deployment throughout the country, to connect every American. McSlarrow says broadband should be a priority for Congress, to improve efficiency and communication, just like the first Internet boom.

The cable industry is also hoping Washington won't regulate too stringently. Of course, there's making sure that the government doesn't over-regulate, discouraging providers to expand their business.

And then there's that buzzword: "Net neutrality." Some Web sites like BitTorrent use far more bandwidth than others, so it makes providers like Comcast and Time Warner Cable would want to divert their bandwidth away from the sites that will dominate their capacity. In contrast, many Web sites and consumers want the broadband providers to be "net neutral," even if that slows down traffic on other sites.

The cable companies don't want "net neutrality" to be regulated, they'd rather decide themselves how to allocate their resources to keep consumers happy and business humming.