Draft FCC Broadband Report: Digital Divide is Narrowing Substantially

By at 1 March, 2019, 11:41 am

Small Business Insider

By Karen Kerrigan-

A new draft report released by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on February 19, 2019 showed substantial progress in the number of Americans who now have broadband connectivity: 5.6 million more people have gained access to broadband over the past year. These gains largely have been made in rural areas, and the progress should not come as a surprise given the pro-investment agenda that has been established and carried out by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.

For example, repealing intrusive internet regulations advanced by the previous FCC while advancing a multi-pronged regulatory effort to pave the way for 5G, have encouraged investment and innovation. Rural internet service providers, in particular, have benefitted from the lifting of burdensome Title II regulations that were embedded within the previous FCC’s “open internet order.”

FCC action to advance sound spectrum policy (enabling 5G deployment) and to address regulatory barriers at all levels of government will allow for faster permitting and infrastructure to be deployed, which will spur innovation and business startups given the many opportunities that 5G is expected to unleash.

Closing the Gap 

To close the broadband gap further, the FCC must also act on “T.V. White Spaces” (TVWS) by dedicating at least three usable channels (below 700 MHZ) to be available in markets across the country so that new technologies can be used to deliver broadband in rural communities.

Microsoft has been testing TVWS in several areas of the country and the initial results show great promise.  At a December 2018 gathering in Washington, D.C., Microsoft president Brad Smith talked about the company’s “Airband Initiative” where he provided an update on its progress while also committing to bringing quality broadband to 3 million unserved Americans. The FCC is still considering the TVWS issue and many individuals and groups have weighed in (including SBE Council) to provide support, including a bipartisan group of House members who sent a letter to all FCC Commissioners in July 2017.

Congress can also help by developing separate bipartisan legislation on two critical issues: a net neutrality framework, and one national set of privacy rules for everyone.  The growth of the digital economy and health of the internet ecosystem depend on certainty, and uniform federal rules (as opposed to 50 different state laws) will provide for this certainty.

Broadband access and deployment to bring every American community the benefits of the digital economy is one of SBE Council key priorities in its 2019 Policy Agenda for Entrepreneurs and Small Business.

Karen Kerrigan is president & CEO of the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council.

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