By Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council President and CEO and Broadband for America (BfA) Economic Growth Advisory Board member Karen Kerrigan
The "we're open for business" sign has quickly become defined by whether you have an online storefront. And when the FCC meets in Chicago this week to hold its hearing on how broadband can help small businesses succeed, they must continue to listen to the voices of employers and employees who know that high-speed Internet enables them to expand their marketplace, save money, hire more workers and be more efficient and flexible in how they run their businesses.
Universal broadband access and adoption is an achievable goal. This past week, Vice President Joe Biden announced the White House's initial investment of $182 million in federal stimulus money for 18 broadband projects. The announcement is part of the larger $7.2 billion in stimulus funds allocated for broadband deployment and adoption. In addition, the White House plans to award about $2 billion more in broadband investment dollars over the next 75 days.
We agree with Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) who said, "These first grants represent an important, initial step towards stimulating job creation as well as expanding consumers' access to and adoption of broadband."The good news is that the government is not working alone. In fact, the broadband industry has together invested over $120 billion in research, deployment and its workforce in just the last two years. As part of this effort, we also hope the FCC and engaged citizens everywhere understand that the driving force behind the Internet's success is innovation and that modernization thrives when it is allowed to work without constraints. The openness of the Internet has helped companies hire employees at a time when most sectors of the economy are contracting.
A CNN report released in October shows that the biggest growth sector for employment continues to be for telecommunications network engineers, employing 21,000 Americans at a growth rate of 53 percent over 10 years. In addition, five of the top 10 growing jobs in the economy are those directly related to, and dependent upon, broadband access and adoption: systems engineer, business analyst, software development director and computer/network security consultant.
Helping make broadband adoption universal will require deep collaboration between the public and private sectors to ensure every American has access to broadband. It also means letting individuals and companies innovate in ways that stimulate the economy and spur job growth. The benefits of universal Internet access are limitless: consumers are empowered with greater choice and competition, those looking for work have access to resources and companies at their fingertips and the small businesses that offer their goods and services online can penetrate national and global markets.
When Congress gets to work next year on the FCC's recommendations for a national broadband plan, we know they will partner with private companies to bring the Internet to those rural and underserved parts of our country that most need to get connected. In the meantime, they have asked us for our ideas and solutions to make that plan succeed. While it will take a high level of commitment from government and the private sector, making high-speed adoption universal and keeping the Internet open for business will play a critical role in helping to start new businesses, creating new jobs and keeping our economy strong.