Congress Steps Up to the Plate to Weigh in on Net Neutrality

08/09/2010 10:33 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Last week officials announced that net neutrality talks have broken down between the Federal Communications Commission, major Internet service providers and other key stakeholders. This news comes as policymakers in Washington, D.C. continue to work toward a resolution in the debate over Internet regulation and as Congress weighs in for the first time.

Democrats and Republicans have joined together to send a clear message to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski's proposed Third Way approach to Internet regulation: stand down. The message was delivered last week, when Reps. Fred Upton (R-MI) and Gene Green (D-TX) introduced a resolution urging the Federal Communications Commission to wait for congressional action rather than expanding its authority over the Internet. The resolution appropriately reinforces Congressional authority on title II and has drawn the support of 50 co-sponsors, including 24 Democrats.

Clearly, this is a positive development.

Genachowski's proposed Third Way approach could keep millions of disadvantaged Americans from accessing the economic and educational benefits of the Internet. In this recessionary economy, creating jobs is critical; any regulation that undermines this goal is ill-advised and careless. The goal should be creating jobs, expanding small businesses and creating a regulatory environment that incentivizes "all" private investment to work in harmony with the United States Government as we transition into a digital based economy that will enable us to drive forward.

It is critical that Congress continue moving ahead on this critical measure. The longer we wait, the further we fall behind... while other countries continue enjoying the economic benefits of broadband, putting the United States at a disadvantage in the global marketplace.

As we strive to remain competitive on the global scale, we must address the challenges that we continue to face inside our borders. Low-income and minority communities across the country are struggling as the digital divide continues to grow each day that we stall on legislative action. Statistics suggest that African-Americans and Latinos are not making use of home broadband and Internet technology as extensively as the rest of the population. A recent report by the Pew Hispanic Center found technology use among foreign-born Latinos continues to lag significantly behind that of their U.S.-born counterparts. These differences are especially pronounced when it comes to Internet use. While 85% of native-born Latinos ages 16 and older go online, only about half (51%) of foreign-born Latinos do so. This is discouraging when you consider that broadband opens the door to unparalleled opportunity in a myriad of areas: education, health care, economic development. It gives those who have fallen behind the chance to close the gap and provides an opportunity to stop the cycle of hardship that many Americans experience.

If this great nation is going to reach its full potential, we must grow stronger from the core. We are only as strong as our weakest link, and as such we must focus on making progress in the areas of broadband access and affordability to ensure that the benefits of broadband enable all Americans to survive and thrive in the 21st Century and beyond.

Congressional action is needed if we are to progress and stop misguided policies that stand in the way of universal access. It is our elected officials' responsibility to not only ensure equal and affordable broadband access for all, but to ensure that its constituents and all Americans are guaranteed equal opportunity. Reps. Green and Upton's resolution is a critical step in the right direction. Congress' challenge now is to determine how best to promote private investment in industries of the future - like telecommunications and technology - while stabilizing the economy and rebuilding the economies of the most devastated regions of the country.

Ensuring affordable broadband for all Americans is a critical component in achieving universal broadband. With 50 members of Congress now effectively working toward this goal, I am confident that we are on the right track. And I look forward to working together to achieve this objective.

Julius H. Hollis is the CEO of the Alliance for Digital Equality, a non-profit organization that receives funding from a wide array of organizations including those from the telecommunications, energy and entertainment sectors.