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Open Internet? Yes. Reclassify broadband as a utility? No.

App Purchase, Broadband, FCC, Internet, News, Open Internet, Opinion, Title II, Wireless Access -

Open Internet? Yes. Reclassify broadband as a utility? No.

Last year, I walked the halls of Kramer Middle School in Washington, DC, with Federal Communications Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel.

My brother is principal there. We ducked into one classroom and saw half of the eleven- and twelve-year-olds sitting quietly in front of computer screens while the other half listened to a teacher explain that day’s lesson.

When Rosenworcel asked the vice principal about the broadband capacity of the school, she was told that even if they wanted to have every child on a computer at the same time, they couldn’t. The speeds were too slow to handle that kind of volume.

The capacity challenges schools like Kramer face helped drive the Obama Administration’s focus on wiring 99% of schools with next generation broadband and high-speed wireless through its ConnectED program. Those same students deserve high speed broadband at home too, but it won’t be the government that provides those connections. Private sector investment will pay for that capacity, but adding additional regulatory hurdles like reclassifying broadband Internet services under Title II of the 1934 Communication Act could get in the way.

Most Americans want to ensure that students, consumers and businesses all benefit from fast, reliable online broadband service. Devising rules that meet those standards is important, but picking up the rulebook that was made for plain old telephone service (POTS) and applying it to broadband isn’t the way to do it. That knee-jerk reaction to the federal court striking down the FCC’s 2010 Open Internet order sounds good on first hearing, but it might actually impede the goals most of us have to expand broadband service to those still left behind.

Luckily, another legally sustainable alternative exists for the FCC: crafting necessary consumer protections under Section 706.

As the National Minority Organizations (including 100 Black Men, Minority Media and Telecommunications Council and the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators) recently highlighted for  the FCC:  “Section 706 will be very effective in protecting consumers, and it will accomplish that goal without imposing legacy rules designed for monopoly Plain Old Telephone Service (“POTS”) on modern day competitive services. A common carrier approach to broadband regulation would slow down broadband adoption and stifle the growth and innovation of the Internet.”

According to Anna Maria Kovacs in Re/Code, telecom companies spent “roughly $18 billion investing in broadband investment in 2013,” while “the cable companies … spent nearly $14 billion.” They made those investments, not for sentimental reasons but because there was a business case built on expected profits being greater than expected costs.

That business case would be at risk  under Title II  because the uncertainty of government regulation could make increased investments too risky.

I spend much of my time encouraging young people — particularly African-Americans and Latinos — to enter tech entrepreneurship. We need more people of color in the industry.  Those young people and every other aspiring web entrepreneur are dependent on the Internet being an open marketplace where companies can compete with low barriers to entry. The prospect of the Federal Communication Commission regulating it like the old clunky phone company doesn’t fill me with optimism.

Government should help set standards for business, such as a worthwhile minimum wage for workers. Defining the boundaries of acceptable behavior like emission standards is good too, but it doesn’t make much sense to have regulators in the middle of each team’s huddle signing off on plays. The market requires more flexibility than that. Uncle Sam should mostly get out of the way to let businesses compete.

Those in support of Title II argue that the fears of many business owners can be allayed by the FCC’s power to “forbear” from enforcing some of the Title II  provisions. That  exercise of restraint, however,  doesn’t bind  future commissions from  rescinding that grant of forbearance.

Once the regulatory bear is out of its cage, there is no telling where it would stop. Some companies have proposed having wireless broadband service come under the umbrella of Title II also. Until now, the FCC has kept those services in a separate category that allows innovation and investment to flourish.

African-American and Latino communities over-index in wireless access to the Internet and in app purchases for their devices.  If these growing and innovative services lose their creative mojo because of a regulatory heavy hand, these communities will have even further to go before reaching parity.

An open Internet for consumers and businesses is the right goal. How we get there requires real thoughtfulness.

Reclassifying broadband under Title II is not the way to do it.

Political analyst Jamal Simmons is Co-Chairman of the Internet Innovation Alliance, an association focused on expanding policies that encourage increased broadband investment.  He is also co-founder of Flyclique.com, a digital platform committed to lowering the cultural barriers to the tech industry for diverse Millennials.

 

The post Open Internet? Yes. Reclassify broadband as a utility? No. appeared first on theGrio.


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