Saunders: Consumer choice key to closing technology gap

August 22, 2013 

Saunders

— The gap that our state must overcome to secure a better future is not black vs. white or haves vs. have-nots. It’s the technologically literate vs. the technologically illiterate. The future belongs to all of us, young and old, who can stay abreast of technological developments, master what we need to know and use that mastery to advance our careers and enhance our lives and our communities.

But we can’t develop that mastery if we’re denied choice. Too often, South Carolina gets left behind as companies scramble to find markets in populous areas. We end up playing catch-up — and kids as well as parents fall farther behind.

Just as damaging is when companies achieve near-monopoly standing and stifle competition, discourage innovation and deny consumer choice. Inevitably, higher prices and poorer service result — and families in the rural South are again denied access to emerging technologies.

Such is the case in the cable industry. Too many cable operators hold their customers hostage, not giving them full access to the latest technologies that can enhance the availability of education and information. That’s happening right now as certain cable operators apparently don’t want to play by the rules created years ago by the Federal Communications Commission at Congress’ direction.

When it passed the Telecom Act 17 years ago, Congress told the FCC to make sure consumers would have a choice of video devices, just as consumers have a range of choices of handheld mobile devices. So the FCC devised the CableCARD system, which lets consumers buy a set-top box and plug it into any cable system.

Think about it: Internet service providers don’t dictate what kind of laptop or tablet we use. And cable companies shouldn’t force subscribers to use only their set-top boxes. But the FCC hasn’t enforced the CableCARD rules despite a clear congressional directive.

Our part of the country ought to be tired of big companies telling us what we can and can’t do.

South Carolinian Mignon L. Clyburn, the acting chairwoman of the FCC, always has been a strong advocate for cable competition and consumer choice. She can make a critical difference by ensuring that the FCC keeps CableCARDs available for consumers, advancing opportunities for all of our citizens.

Bill Saunders

Johns Island

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