Rolling Out

African Americans Pay High Price Without Broadband Access: Ensuring a Level Playing Field

        David Sutphen, co-chairman of the Internet Innovation Alliance              

Being out of shape is one thing — but if Albert Haynesworth stepped onto the gridiron on Sept. 12 for the Redskins’ season opener with one hand tied behind his back, he’d be at a big competitive disadvantage against the Dallas Cowboys. Unfortunately, too many African Americans are at a competitive disadvantage because they don’t have an important asset in today’s digitally driven society — a broadband Internet connection. At a time when the Internet has become our society’s economic, political and cultural glue, the lack of high-speed broadband access means you’re not competing on a level playing field.

A recent Pew Internet & American Life Project Home Broadband survey revealed that African Americans, more than any other group, believe that the lack of a broadband Internet connection is a significant disadvantage when it comes to education, health care and civic engagement among other things. Fortunately, a number of civil rights organizations have also recently highlighted the importance of being online for our community. For example, earlier this summer the NAACP cautioned lawmakers and regulators not to “create barriers to entry that prevent people of color, the economically disadvantaged or any Americans from taking advantage of the civic, economic, and creative opportunities enabled by comprehensive broadband Internet services.” The NAACP knows that when the unemployment rate for blacks is almost double the national average, not having access to the Internet makes finding a job even more difficult. The benefits of broadband aren’t limited to finding a job. At this year’s National Urban League Centennial Convention in Washington, D.C., Tom Joyner — the popular nationally syndicated radio host — emphasized the crucial role that the Internet is playing in online education, as a vehicle for African Americans getting affordable degrees on flexible schedules. 

Significant progress has been made — today 56 percent of African Americans have home broadband connections — but we should not be satisfied until that number reaches 100 percent.  The Obama Administration recognizes the importance of closing this digital disconnect and has set forth a strategy in the form of a National Broadband Plan, which the Federal Communications Commission released in March of this year.  Unfortunately, political interests brewing in D.C. are discouraging much-needed private investment, threatening progress toward achieving the goals outlined in this plan. The FCC recently voted to push for additional regulation of the Internet called Title II, which would place high-speed broadband Internet — a thriving, dynamic technology — under the same outdated rules that applied to your grandmother’s oversized rotary telephone. These regulations could increase costs and make broadband less accessible for those who aren’t yet online. The FCC should look to reach a compromise in defining the appropriate rules of the road when it comes to the Internet and turn its focus to implementing the National Broadband Plan. That would be a true game changer. 

David Sutphen is co-chairman of the Internet Innovation Alliance.

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