THE BLOG

Ensuring Internet Equality For All

02/25/2015 09:32 am ET | Updated Apr 27, 2015
Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images

It's no secret I consider income inequality the greatest challenge of our time. And whether you're my age or my teenage son Dante's, it's clear: the Internet has become fundamental to solving it. Like electricity in the 1800s, the Internet is now an essential building block of economic opportunity.

It doesn't just connect us to our friends and family through Skype or Facebook. It links us to job opportunities, critical services, and troves of information. It allows us to check whether our children have homework, take advantage of new education tools, or build a business. More and more each day, the Internet -- like electricity -- is turning into a basic utility. And this critical resource should be treated as such.

All this points to one conclusion: we must have affordable broadband.

But far too many Americans struggle to afford this common service -- or lack it altogether. In New York City, home of the second largest tech sector in the country, we pay more for less when it comes to broadband access. And the reason is fairly evident.

Internet access is now essentially controlled by four companies. Comcast and Time Warner nearly have a complete lock on broadband in the markets they control, covering some 50 million American homes. They're now looking to merge, which would put them in control of about half of the nation's broadband subscribers. A significant number of Americans also use their smartphones for broadband access -- and Verizon and AT&T together own 64 percent of cell phone service.

That's why we need the right rules safeguarding the fast and open Internet. Access to it shouldn't be a luxury only available to the privileged few.

Last summer, I joined Mayor Charlie Hales of Portland, Oregon, and Mayor Edwin Lee of the City of San Francisco in urging the Federal Communications Commission to protect the open Internet and prevent Internet Service Providers from discriminating against certain content and services online. We called on the Commission to re-classify broadband as a telecommunications service and to enact the strongest possible rules against blocking, paid prioritization, and other discriminatory practices limiting our Internet access.

To date, the Commission has classified broadband Internet service as an "information service." This made the Commission's authority unclear, giving Internet Service Providers inordinate control over what Americans are able to create and access -- not to mention how we connect with one another online.

But earlier this month, the Commission outlined a bold new set of rules designed to promote net neutrality. If enacted, they would reclassify broadband as a telecommunications service -- giving the Commission tools to ensure fair play, just as they did when telephone service became the primary means of communication.

Major media companies shouldn't be gatekeeping our Internet access -- speeding up some content, blocking other -- simply because they're able to pay for it. The FCC must not allow mega firms to stifle innovation, competition, and public goods through exorbitant price points for the speeds that drive the 21st Century economy.

Rules prohibiting the blocking of lawful content, services and applications are particularly important for public schools and libraries serving our residents. For too many New Yorkers, these may be the only places they're able to get online -- making their ability to do so without delay especially key. Our libraries and our schools also develop content and may not be able to afford the speeds necessary to ensure that the low-income Americans who rely on them can access it.

The latest findings show: the fastest growing and best-paying jobs are coming from the tech sector. And tech start-ups need to know they can get their content out there without prohibitive fees.

But it isn't just the tech sector that needs a fair and open Internet. Small businesses added about two-thirds of all new jobs over the past decade and a half. We need to ensure that all businesses can come into existence, grow and thrive in New York City.

That's why the Commission's proposals mark such a momentous milestone. They demonstrate a steadfast commitment to ensuring this technology remains a tool for advancing goals related to equity, education, innovation, economic growth, and smart and responsive government.

Take a parent trying to connect to our Department of Education services online -- or a high school student trying to complete a history project. The Internet has become crucial for parental engagement, and sometimes it's the only way kids can do their homework. Without unambiguous rules protecting it, these connections could become much slower and more cumbersome -- for communities who already have limited access to fast and open Internet.

I applaud FCC Chairman Wheeler for the bold leadership he has demonstrated with the proposed rules. New York City also commends his efforts to ensure that cities across this nation can create municipal options, so that everyone has an on ramp onto the information superhighway.

It is critical that the FCC act now to implement these regulations to protect consumers and innovation. I urge the Commission to safeguard a free and open Internet for generations to come by voting in favor of these rules when it convenes tomorrow. The time for this is now.