Over the past ten years, Americans have enthusiastically embraced and adopted broadband Internet. Although we have made significant progress, a real digital divide still exists in the African American community. The Obama Administration’s $7 billion stimulus investment in broadband and technologies like web-enabled smart phones are helping to close this divide, but we must continue to do more to ensure that our community gets connected.
Simply put, broadband has become a critical life tool. Whether it’s looking for a job, managing your finances or healthcare, pursuing a higher education, staying connected to friends, family and community, high-speed Internet is the great enabler and equalizer.
There are many more effective ways to address the digital divide than divisive new regulations unrelated to adoption or deployment, which bring a high degree of uncertainty and could have unintended consequences.
The FCC should invest its time and political capital where the returns are highest: in the National Broadband Strategy – a common goal for all parties – if it really wants to help connect every American to the benefits of high-speed Internet. The net neutrality distraction will disserve efforts to remedy persistent digital divides and imperil critical elements of the National Broadband Strategy.
Here are ten reasons why new the internet regulations impede the common goals of connecting all Americans and closing the digital divide:
- Considerable progress has been made in our first broadband decade – progress that has only been achieved because of the FCC’s longstanding, deregulatory approach to the Internet. In roughly ten years we have gone from practically zero broadband deployment to more than 95 percent availability and 63 percent adoption, according to the FCC and Pew.
- The open Internet exists today. We have been living with ‘net neutrality’ since 2004, when it was established that companies cannot control the content and applications that people are able to access online.
- The net neutrality debate, which only concerns those already online, is a distraction from creating an effective National Broadband Plan. The people who have the most to lose from this balancing act are the socially and economically disenfranchised – members of rural, low-income, urban, tribal, minority, non-English speaking, unserved and underserved populations.
- The Commission’s recent request for an extension of time to deliver a National Broadband Plan underscores the need for the agency to devote more – not less – attention and resources to completing a national strategy.
- Experts on the digital divide have not cited “lack of net neutrality regulations” as either a cause or a cure for race or income-based differences in broadband adoption. The current net neutrality war that has erupted in Washington, DC has very little to do with the interests of the unserved and underserved.
- It is impossible to know for sure how new Internet regulations would impact private investment, and a decline in capital investments in broadband could have a harmful effect on jobs and the US economy. In fact, a reduction by five percent would reduce employment by 47,073 according to research from the ITIF or 78,455 according to former FCC commissioner and economist Harold Furchtgott-Roth.
- Today’s open Internet is making possible huge innovation. We reduce the possibilities and raise barriers if we don’t give everyone access to smart networks.
- Lack of net neutrality regulations cannot be reduced to “charging more fees and extracting more money from wealthier customers.” On the contrary, the FCC has laid out six principles of net neutrality, which have the potential to impact Americans at every level of income.
- In a 2009 poll of 900 African Americans and Hispanics conducted by Brilliant Corners Research, led by Obama Presidential Campaign and Democratic Pollster Cornell Belcher, 43 percent of these minorities cited either not knowing how to use the Internet or not seeing the need for the Internet as the reason why they are not online; however, 44 percent of these same respondents said they would be more likely to subscribe to Internet services if they were provided free lessons on how to use the technology and 30 percent would be more likely to adopt if they had more information about how they could benefit from going online.
- There are more significant policy challenges and opportunities demanding FCC attention and cooperation with industry, such as reforming the universal service fund, expanding spectrum availability for commercial use, and improving digital literacy.