People from every walk of life are using their broadband-enabled devices to complete tasks, achieve goals and stay connected to their loved ones. But for those who still struggle to gain access to high-speed broadband connectivity, those possibilities remain out of reach. These struggles would be intensified by heavy-handed public-utility-style regulation of the Internet, which would increase consumers’ broadband bills significantly, leading to lower rates of broadband use, particularly among low-income communities.
A study by Hal Singer of the Progressive Policy Institute and Robert Litan of the Brookings Institution reveals that reclassifying broadband as a telecommunications service under Title II would add billions of dollars in new state and local fees. These fees would add $121 per year in South Carolina to the cost of wired and wireless, and as much as $107 for wired service and $114 for wireless service.
For many low-income communities, this would be significant enough to make broadband access an unaffordable luxury. And that’s a shame, because today, access to broadband really is a necessity. It delivers opportunities for educational enrichment, distance learning, professional development, small-business growth, civic engagement and even health care. In recent years, advances in mobile broadband networks have helped increase broadband adoption rates among minority communities.
Adopting this outdated regulatory framework could reduce broadband adoption rates and hinder continued investment into our networks, and at a critical time when we should instead be encouraging increased access.
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There’s a better path forward, one that would protect the open Internet and guard against paid prioritization without slowing progress, innovation or broadband deployment. The FCC has existing authority under Section 706, which allows continued light-touch regulation overall, as well as solutions for preserving open Internet principles without the costs or detrimental effects of Title II.
At the Columbia Urban League, we focus on empowering African-Americans and other underserved communities. We work to help them secure self-reliance and to enter the economic and societal mainstream. But today, broadband access and digital skills are necessary in order to fully participate in our society. Any regulatory approach that decreases digital citizenship among our minority or low-income populations is the wrong one.
James T. McLawhorn Jr.
CEO, Columbia Urban League