Decisions in Washington will determine the future of South Carolina's Internet economy

Today, America's communications regulator, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), proposed new rules to oversee the future of the Internet.  Disappointingly, the FCC voted to consider reclassifying Internet access as a public utility.  Even more disappointing was the fact that a fellow South Carolina resident, Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, voted this way as well. Luckily, it is not too late for her to stand up for South Carolina's citizens and denounce regulating the 21st century Internet with 19th-century monopoly laws.
 
In 1996 when the Internet was in its infancy, policymakers came together in a unique display of bipartisan leadership to develop a regulatory framework that has allowed the Internet to thrive in America and benefit South Carolinians of all walks of life.

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Ahead of the FCC vote today, some groups called for heavy-handed regulation under the false pretense that the Internet is somehow broken and needs to be fixed.  This claim could not be further from the truth.  The growth of the Internet economy in South Carolina - and the advances the Hispanic community has experienced with Internet adoption - demonstrate how much the current approach to the Internet has benefitted our communities.

We need a local champion to stand up for South Carolina at the FCC more than ever. Commissioner Clyburn, a native South Carolinian and a former South Carolina Public Service Commissioner, was first appointed by President Barack Obama in 2009 and deeply appreciates the power of the Internet to serve the public interest and help bridge the digital divide.  Her experienced leadership is critical to ensuring our state's innovators; minority entrepreneurs and consumers can continue to benefit from a world-class Internet.

The Hispanic community has experienced progress in terms of Internet and other information technology growth in recent years.  According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 68 percent of Hispanic Americans use their mobile phone to access the Internet or use email - higher than the national average of 63 percent.  For many of these consumers and businesses, their smartphones function as small, mobile computers connected wirelessly to the Internet. While more progress is needed in broadband adoption, the Hispanic community is encouraged by the tremendous advances America and South Carolina have made.

In South Carolina, communications companies have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in best-in class wireless and wired networks in just the past few years.  This investment has led to increased Internet speeds for South Carolinians.  Such network enhancements have nearly doubled residential and small business Internet speeds in Charleston, Columbia and Greenville, providing speeds up to 45 megabits per second downstream.

The investment by private companies has been, and will be, a tremendous boon to the Hispanic community's growth, upward mobility and economic and educational opportunities in South Carolina and across the country.  Since 1996, private companies have invested over $1.2 trillion nationally to build out our nation's Internet infrastructure.  This investment has contributed to robust job creation.  Today, broadband and related information technology directly supports nearly 11 million jobs annually in the U.S.

However, all of these remarkable advancements could be set back depending on potential decisions by the FCC.  Some groups have called for Internet Service Providers to be regulated as 20th Century phone carriers.  This unprecedented regulation would be beyond troublesome.  Today's Internet ecosystem is rapidly evolving with new innovations occurring every day.  Charleston in particular has been a vibrant hub of innovation, with new companies emerging constantly.

If the Internet is put under outdated and inappropriate telecommunications regulations, the companies providing these services will stop investing in our state.  The result could be devastating.  Without affordable Internet, many businesses could close, and many South Carolinians could lose their jobs.  Affordable, high-quality Internet connectivity is essential to our businesses, and possible new regulations pose an unwarranted threat to that affordable connectivity.

For the benefit of South Carolina's economy and the Hispanic community, FCC Commissioner Clyburn should help uphold our country's leadership position on the Internet.

Lugo is the president of the South Carolina Hispanic Chamber of Commerce