The Washington Times May 9, 2018
By Hector Barreto
Broadband experts and community leaders around the country are discussing strategies to close the high-speed internet access divide that prevents many rural communities, consumers and small businesses from participating in the digital economy. But to meet this challenge — one of the greatest our country faces in the 21st century — Congress must resist efforts that would send internet rules back to the 1930s and curb much-needed investment in broadband infrastructure.
The growth of the online economy in recent years has been staggering as small businesses and commerce increasingly enter the digital world. Last year, e-commerce sales reached a record-high $453 billion — a 16 percent increase from 2016 alone. But for residents of rural communities, the benefits of online shopping or launching an internet business remain frustratingly out of reach. In fact, more than 48 million Americans have access to only one or zero internet providers.
This lack of high-speed access also hurts local economies. Studies have shown rural communities with strong high-speed connections have lower unemployment rates and higher household incomes. For example, after the U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded broadband grants to farms across the country, farm owners benefited from a significant increase in sales and profits — demonstrating how expanding broadband infrastructure can support the 915 million acres of farmland throughout the U.S.
Bringing broadband to all Americans requires smart, light-touch federal policies that can spark private investment and innovation in high-speed infrastructure. This was the regulatory approach that guided broadband for decades and facilitated an unprecedented rate of innovation that made the internet an essential component of everyday life for many Americans and an economic engine for small businesses and the nation’s economy.
But in 2015, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) tossed aside this successful approach by imposing 1930s-era regulations on the internet known as Title II. This quickly resulted in the loss of hundreds of billions of dollars in private investment for infrastructure projects that would have expanded broadband services to more Americans.
Fortunately, those rules were short-lived. In December, the FCC restored the pre-2015 regulatory framework by removing Title II regulations and enacting transparency rules that require internet service providers to disclose their net neutrality policies — which can be monitored and enforced by the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general.
However, in the wake of misinformation and overheated rhetoric from those claiming the FCC’s move would lead to the end of free speech and democracy, some members of Congress are now working to reinstate Title II through a legislative maneuver called the Congressional Review Act (CRA). The internet CRA would allow Congress to overturn the FCC’s order with a simple majority while bypassing the kind of substantive congressional debate necessary for developing internet policy that could affect virtually every American.
This is not the way to develop smart policies for preserving an open internet that is available to all Americans — an important goal that nearly everyone can agree. But misguided partisan policy approaches such as the internet CRA — or the net neutrality bills that have been proposed by some state lawmakers — distract from real solutions that would preserve a truly free and accessible internet.
Rather than playing policy games, open internet supporters should urge Congress to put aside partisanship and develop comprehensive national legislation that settles the debate and permanently enshrines net neutrality protections for our continued future growth.
The U.S. is the envy of the world when it comes to digital technology and online innovation that is changing the way all of us live and do business. Today, millions of Americans remain unable to access this world of innovation and e-commerce. To help connect these Americans, Congress must deliver comprehensive bipartisan legislation that makes net neutrality the law of the land and ensures we can bring high-speed broadband access to anyone who wants it.
Hector V. Barreto is chairman of the Latino Coalition and former administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Source: The Washington Times