Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle have sent a clear message to the five Commissioners of the Federal Communications Commission regarding new internet regulations: bring the power back to the people.
Recently Congressmen Gene Green and 73 House Democratic colleagues, including a number of members of the Congressional Black Caucus, sent a letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski advocating for congressional input as the Commission considers the Chairman's "third way" proposal on broadband regulation. The letter encouraged Chairman Genachowski not to take untoward actions that discourage further investment, restrict network management, slow the deployment of broadband, and jeopardize the jobs associated with broadband expansion.
Furthermore, the announcement that Senators Jay Rockefeller and John Kerry, as well as Representatives Henry Waxman and Rick Boucher plan to pursue an inclusive process to revise the 1996 Telecommunications Act is also encouraging. Members of Congress should create a new path forward that clarifies the FCC's authority over broadband services while prioritizing the National Broadband Plan's objective of universal broadband access.
Back to the point of this piece: bringing the power back to the people. What matters as we move forward on broadband are three critical issues. First, we must settle on implementing a broadband rulemaking process that serves to bridge the digital divide that still exists in many parts of this country. Recent statistics out of the FCC indicate that broadband adoption among African Americans still trails behind the national average. As broadband offers important opportunities for affordable health care, civic participation, online education and economic empowerment, it is unacceptable that members of our community do not have access to these benefits. Members of Congress should stand up for their underserved constituents and help forge a compromise that will encourage affordable access to broadband.
Second, legislation would better account for the need for substantial private sector investment in broadband. It is hard to deny the power of private investment, especially when the broadband industry has pumped between $50 and $60 billion annually for the last several years to bring broadband into our neighborhoods, schools and community centers. As staff from the FCC has estimated that it could take up to $350 billion to deploy broadband nationally, current levels of investment must be maintained to ensure that broadband and its benefits are able to reach all Americans.
Finally, and most importantly, through its more rigorous and diverse fact-finding and rulemaking process Congress will recognize what we have known all along, that broadband internet is a job creator. Not only does broadband build-out directly create jobs, but it also has spillover benefits, allowing displaced workers to retrain and seek out new job opportunities. Job creation is no small matter given our current economic climate, as it leads to greater wealth creation, community building, and overall prosperity for all Americans.
Chairman Genachowski must heed the calls of the bipartisan group of legislators who have implored him not to regulate broadband internet services. Instead this matter should be resolved by members of Congress. Congressional intervention will provide an effective avenue for minorities and underserved communities to express our concerns, while narrowing the digital divide, promoting continued investment, and creating jobs.
Congressional action on broadband is the only true way to bring the power back to the people. We thank the members of the Congressional Black Caucus and other key elected officials for pressing this important matter before the Federal Communications Commission.
Danny Bakewell is the President of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA)