Federal Regulators Can Help Drive New Investment in America

by David Honig on January 30, 2013

American TechnologyAs we enter a new year and embrace the promise of President Obama’s second term, our highest priority must be finding new ways to help drive economic growth, job creation and equal opportunity in America.  That is why policymakers should quickly begin the process of upgrading America’s public switched telephone network (the copper “PSTN”) to next generation IP broadband networks that will bring 21st century applications and services to all Americans.  Updating the rules governing the telecom industry – the fastest growing segment of the economy – and leading a national conversation on the transition from the copper plant to all-IP networks should be a top policy issue for the Administration, Congress and the FCC.

Next-generation high speed networks – both wired and wireless – carry the potential for enormous, across-the-board advances in education, health care and employment.  Rapid deployment of these networks would deliver these benefits to the underserved communities – particularly communities of color and low-income rural areas – that need them the most.

This week MMTC joined 15 other national organizations, including the NAACP, United Negro College Fund, and National Organization of Black Elected Legislative Women, in support of AT&T’s request to conduct geographically limited beta trials to help advance the nation’s transition to all IP-based networks. We believe that the incremental approach of the market test provides the best means to obtain public input and help raise and resolve complex issues in an open and transparent process.  These market tests would allow policymakers to choose the best and fastest way to migrate consumers from antiquated 20th century “voice only” networks to the networks, services, and applications that will directly benefit the nation’s economy and, especially, underserved communities of color.

In creating a framework for these beta trials, we encourage the FCC to consider policy goals that will help advance high rates of service adoption across income level, race and primary language, as well as promote broadband service affordability and competitive alternatives for consumers.  Since affordability is the number one impediment to minority broadband adoption, we recommend that the FCC include affordability, pricing and adoption rates of newly deployed IP-enabled broadband service in its analysis of future beta trials and formulation of policies necessary to expedite the transition to all-IP networks.

MMTC has always enthusiastically supported progressive cost allocation and tax policies that help lift the poor out of poverty rather than push them deeper into poverty.  The IP transition as set forth in AT&T’s petition is progressive because it would shift the ultimate responsibility for huge fixed capital expenditure costs, attendant to maintaining redundant copper facilities, away from low income consumers.

If the nation can decommission the old PSTN network and replace it with a state of the art, fast IP network – and do so in a way that protects consumers and preserves competition and advances equal opportunity, we can achieve the President’s goal of high-speed broadband access for more than 98% of America.  That would be an enormous legacy for the President – on the scale of President Roosevelt’s TVA or President Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway System.  Now it’s time to help our President deliver first class digital citizenship to all Americans.

  • David Honig is MMTC’s President and Executive Director. He co-founded the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council (MMTC) in 1986. MMTC has represented over 70 minority, civil rights and religious national organizations in selected proceedings before the FCC, and it operates the nation’s only full service, minority owned media and telecom brokerage.

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