THE BLOG
11/23/2010 05:08 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

We Need Jobs Now -- Why Are We Still Talking About Net Neutrality Regulation?

The United States unemployment rate has lingered around 9 percent since July 2009 -- approximately a year and a half ago. Not surprisingly, the people sent a clear message to Washington in the midterm election: Americans need jobs. "Economic recovery" should no longer be an item on the agenda. Growth and job creation must be the top priorities, and they must be considered in the ongoing debate over America's technology future.

According to a recent article in The Hill, the FCC is exploring a net neutrality proposal which encroaches on wireless broadband technology. This regulation would likely prohibit wireless companies from blocking any application, service or device -- and the fallout would be toxic to our economy. If these net neutrality principles are implemented, it would curtail investment in one of the growing and most promising areas of the American economy, and equally as disturbing, has the potential to further marginalize African Americans and Latinos during a period of unparalleled economic suffering.

Communities of color that are all too often the first fired and the last hired will be hit especially hard by any extreme new net neutrality principles. Unemployment rates for African Americans and Latinos are staggering and further economic weakness will have a deep and adverse impact on efforts to close the income inequality gap that exist in our society today. So, why not implement policies that facilitate growth and opportunity, rather than creating additional barriers through excessive regulation?

According to a recent analysis of Census data by the Commerce Department, there is still a wide disparity in residential broadband use that breaks down along racial lines, even as subscriptions among American households overall grew sevenfold between 2001 and 2009. Fixing this will provide a solid path toward fixing disparities in other areas as well. Not only will broadband technology ensure minority communities with job opportunities, but it will also empower them with health, education, social and civil engagement opportunities. Efforts to bridge the digital divide will simultaneously create sustainable jobs and provide a significant -- and much needed -- boost to the economy.

For communities of color, wireless serves as a bridge to connectivity. Studies show that minority communities are the leading adopters of wireless technology. Applying net neutrality regulations to wireless threatens this trend and has the potential to be extremely damaging to efforts to further bridge the digital divide. Addressing the disparities in minority communities by achieving affordable, universal broadband should remain the focus. These issues are that drive me to continue to be so invested in this debate. We must not cave to policies that would deter these goals by shifting broadband infrastructure build-out costs to minorities.

Instead of imposing new regulation on wireless, the FCC should model any regulatory action on Rep. Henry Waxman's legislation. Not only did Waxman's proposed legislation garner broad support from community and consumer groups, as well as from the FCC, but it preserved the integrity of the booming wireless industry. This is the model that should be used moving forward. Any policy that moves beyond what was outlined in Waxman's legislation and includes wireless would go too far, and most importantly, would put jobs at risk.

Additional -- and unnecessary -- regulation will do more harm than good. The regulatory approach has already currently in place has successfully fostered unprecedented growth and competition in the broadband marketplace. As a result, access has expanded, prices have gone down, and innovation and investment have drastically increased. This is the kind of momentum that our elected officials must adopt and continue to implement to answer the call of the American public to create jobs and stimulate private investment in the economy in order to spur our recovery. We desperately need policies that create new opportunities, while laying the foundation for a fruitful and prosperous future that all Americans, not just the affluent can enjoy.

The American people made their voices heard in the recent election. Now is not the time to stifle broadband investments -- a move that would further polarize our society by widening the economic divide that exists. It is the time to focus all of our efforts on the priorities of the American public. Through the adoption of a framework that incentives private investment and the deployment of broadband, the FCC can spur the very employment, innovation and recovery that we want and need, and will ultimately make us a stronger nation.

Julius H Hollis is CEO of the Alliance for Digital Equality (ADE), a non-profit consumer advocacy organization that serves to facilitate and ensure equal access to technology in underserved communities.