Broadband: A must for America’s economic recovery

With the national unemployment rate inching close to 10 percent, government officials have an even greater responsibility to ensure that their policies foster business innovation and private investment, which will stimulate economic growth.  This is particularly true for growing and promising industries like broadband.  Broadband is an industry showcasing the promise of economic growth from every angle – private investment, job creation, technology innovation – you name it.  While not a panacea for the current state of the economy, broadband is certainly an industry that America can leverage to create high-paying jobs, stimulate the economy, and close the digital divide.  Closing the digital divide is important to our economic recovery because leaving minority communities behind will only increase the disparity between America’s haves and have nots.
 
When I had the honor and privilege of serving as the nation’s first Hispanic Commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) a generation ago, communications technology was essential to all Americans, but their livelihoods generally were not tied to such technology.  The opposite is the case today.  We increasingly rely on the Internet for such things as work and education and as an avenue for civic and political engagement.  Given this digital shift, the FCC has a commensurately greater responsibility to ensure that it does not inadvertently hurt the very industry it is trying to develop and expand.  As noted by leading, national Hispanic, Asian and African American civil rights, advocacy and public policy groups in their comments in various FCC proceedings,[2]  implementation of a strict regulatory framework for broadband providers could discourage investment, thus reducing the opportunity for small and minority businesses to obtain the capital they need to launch and maintain their ventures.  Moreover, a strict regulatory framework could prevent these companies from partnering with major providers for the delivery of broadband services to niche and emerging markets.
 
After almost four decades representing clients in a myriad of commercial and regulatory legal matters, I have come to value niche markets and the opportunities they provide for small businesses and minority entrepreneurs.  I have also learned that the technology and telecommunications space is ever-changing and evolving – a pattern that is almost certain to continue for the foreseeable future.  For this reason, flexibility is paramount in fostering an environment that is conducive to business development and that enables companies to do what they do best – grow and innovate.  More growth and more innovation inevitably translates into greater economic opportunity for all Americans.
 
The FCC’s Federal Advisory Committee on Diversity in the Digital Age has provided countless recommendations to the FCC on ways to increase diversity and minority entrepreneurship in the technology and telecommunications space.  The National Broadband Plan (“NBP”) is a step towards achieving this goal since the Plan aims to get more Americans (including minorities) connected to the Internet.  However, in order to fully realize the potential of the NBP, the FCC has recognized that the private sector will have to invest significant dollars in infrastructure and equipment; and the private sector is less likely to invest in an industry where the regulatory framework is not well defined or susceptible to change.  It is almost a cliché that businesses hire and invest in growing industries that have stable and predictable regulatory structures.
 
As the FCC begins to implement its NBP, it should keep in mind that all Americans, particularly disenfranchised populations, stand to benefit from a broadband policy that fosters a stronger, more robust broadband industry.  Broadband is quickly becoming the preferred path to finding work, obtaining an education, managing finances, and the list goes on.  Regardless of what the FCC does with Net Neutrality at its upcoming December meeting and regardless of what Congress may do in reaction, with so much at risk, the Commission, Congress and the Administration should make every effort to ensure that those investing in the broadband industry have the opportunity to grow and innovate for years to come.  Only then will we be able to insure a place for all Americans in the economic recovery that's sure to come.
 
Henry M. Rivera served as the nation’s first Hispanic FCC Commissioner from 1981-1985. Currently, Mr. Rivera serves as Chairman of the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council and as a Partner at Wiley Rein, LLP.


[1] http://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/empsit.pdf (page 5)
[2] Framework for Broadband Internet Services, Comments of the National Organizations, GN Docket No. 10-127 (filed July 16, 2010); Preserving the Open Internet, Comments of the National Organizations, GN Docket No. 09-191 (filed January 14, 2010); Preserving the Open Internet, Reply Comments of the National Organizations, GN Docket No. 09-191 (filed April 26, 2010)

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