America continues to be plagued by a widening partisan gridlock emanating in and out the chambers of the United States Congress. Despite the seeming unlikelihood of Congress’ situation improving anytime soon, two former Congressmen believe that things can and will change in their old stomping grounds. During the Congressional Luncheon at MMTC’s Fifth Annual Broadband and Social Justice Summit, which fell on Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday, former Congressmen and New Internet and Telecom Act Taskforce Co-Chairs Hon. Edolphus “Ed” Towns (D-NY) and Hon. Clifford “Cliff” Stearns (R-FL) led the charge for reconciliation while setting the example on what it takes to put differences aside and work together.
The former congressmen are also hopeful that changes can continue to happen in the powerful committees with jurisdiction over the media and telecom industries. These industries, which represent one-sixth of the U.S. economy, kept the nation’s gross domestic product afloat during the worst of the Great Recession. Unfortunately, the industries still lack significant minority and women inclusion in enterprise ownership, employment, and high-level management.
During his remarks, Towns admitted and reflected on what he believed were mistakes Congress made while legislating on issues involving the communications industry: making decisions based on what lawmakers read rather than incorporating the expertise and daily practical experiences of people inside the industry. As a step to remedy the issue, he called on his former Congressional colleagues, along with industry representatives and stakeholders of telecommunications issues, to work together. Towns also mentioned that while people within the industry and Congress might occasionally have varying positions on certain issues, the time to collaborate should occur now.
“We need folks that can work together more than ever,” Towns said. “There’s enough stuff for us to agree on to work together to be able to make a difference.”
Stearns suggests that Congress should focus on fixing the persistent digital divide while lowering the rising costs of institutions that millions of Americans consume. Every day, people across America experience the financial burden of pursuing a post-secondary degree and accessing quality and affordable healthcare. Stearns stated that within the last 10 years, the cost of education and healthcare increased 44 percent and 78 percent, respectively, while the costs of clothing apparel, software and computer hardware have decreased by 4 percent, 39 percent, and 76 percent, respectively.
Stearns added that if Congress concretely addressed the digital divide issue and if private companies continue to invest in deployment, it will drive down the high costs of education and health in the forms of digital education and telemedicine, which are both innovations powered by high-speed broadband. Stearns also mentioned an issue he believed Dr. King would talk about if he were alive today, and what should be the primary goal: Equal Opportunity for First-Class Digital Citizenship.
Nearly one month prior to the Summit, Congressmen Fred Upton (R-MI), Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Greg Walden (R-OR), Chairman of the Communications and Technology Subcommittee, announced that they would introduce a modernized version of the 1996 Telecommunications Act in 2015. With that deadline more than a year away, Congress, the communications industry, and the consumers who will be affected by any proposed laws should take heed to Towns’ and Stearns’ call to action. These groups have the opportunity to start working now to ensure that all of their voices are heard and considered when Upton’s and Walden’s bill is officially introduced.
View the entire Congressional Luncheon from the Fifth Annual Broadband and Social Justice Summit here.
- Tiffany K. Bain is a 2011 public relations graduate of Florida A&M University. She currently serves as the Minority Media & Telecommunications Council’s Research Associate. She got her start in the industry in 2007 as an Emma L. Bowen Foundation intern at the nation’s leading cable provider.