HP’s CEO calls for broadband push by IT industry

Hewlett-Packard Co. chairman and CEO Carly Fiorina called on the IT industry Sunday to move aggressively to support the rapid and widespread deployment of broadband, saying ubiquitous high-speed Internet access could boost the economy.

“Broadband is still not getting consumers,” said Fiorina. “Only nine per cent of Americans who use the Net at home have access via broadband. And that is hardly enough to fulfill the promise of the digital renaissance.”

Fiorina, speaking at the annual Aspen Summit on policy sponsored by the Washington-based policy think tank The Progress and Freedom Foundation, urged the IT industry to create an “effective coalition” to promote solutions to policy and regulatory issues impeding broadband’s growth.

Widespread broadband deployment could allow businesses to deploy richer content and services on Web sites, improve demand for e-commerce services and boost business-to-business interactions and communications with remotely deployed workers, said broadband advocates at the conference.

Fiorina, whose own company has cut thousands of employees because of falling revenue, said she didn’t have a specific recipe for speeding broadband adoption but predicted that rapid deployment could add billions of dollars to the economy.

Larry Clinton, vice president of the United States Telephone Association, a Washington D.C.-based trade group, said involvement by the IT industry on the issue might get Congress and regulators to act.

“The great thing about the IT community [is] they stand in the consumers’ shoes,” he said.

Broadband deployment is mired in a host of regulatory and policy issues that have also pitted cable companies against telephone companies.

Tom Tauke, a senior vice-president at Verizon Communications Inc., recently told the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce: “the high-speed Internet market today is in a similar position today as the cellular industry was more than 10 years ago. Of the more than 60 million U.S. Internet households, 5.5 million access the Internet via high-speed cable modem, and only 2.3 million use xDSL technology for high-speed Internet access.”

Broadband is particularly absent in rural areas. Vincent Cook, a former IBM Corp. executive who is now Colorado’s science and technology commissioner, said broadband could help outlying small businesses work with larger corporate partners, as well as improve the workforce by offering distance learning.

“It’s not about broadband; it’s about economic development,” said Cook.

The IT industry probably needs little persuading to play a larger role in pushing broadband. HP, along with the rest of the industry, has been struggling. The company last month announced plans to lay off 6,000 employees, about six per cent of its 88,500-employee workforce. And last week, HP reported third-quarter revenue of US$10.1 billion, down 14 percent from $11.8 billion for the same three-month period last year.

But Fiorina’s job appears safe. HP board member George “Jay” Keyworth dismissed media speculation that Fiorina is in trouble and said she retains the board’s backing.

“Let me be totally explicit right now: HP’s reinvention is on track, and Carly is on track,” said Keyworth, who is also board chairman of The Progress & Freedom Foundation. “There is no light between Carly and the board on the progress of HP’s reinvention.”