SBE Council Comments on FCC’s “Prevention and Elimination of Digital Discrimination” NPRM

By at 21 February, 2023, 2:23 pm

Ms. Marlene Dortch


Federal Communications Commission

45 L Street NE

Washington, D.C.  20554


Via electronic submission

RE: GN Docket No. 22-69, Implementing the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act: Prevention and Elimination of Digital Discrimination NPRM

Dear Secretary Dortch,

On behalf of the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council (SBE Council), I am pleased to submit comments on the Prevention and Elimination of Digital Discrimination notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM), which seeks to implement section 60506 of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (Infrastructure Act) directing the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) to “take steps to ensure that all people of the United States benefit from equal access to broadband internet access service.”

SBE Council is a nonpartisan, nonprofit advocacy, research and education organization dedicated to protecting small business and promoting entrepreneurship. With more than 100,000 members nationwide, SBE Council is engaged at the local, state, federal and international levels where we collaborate with elected officials, policy experts and business leaders on initiatives and proposals to enhance business competitiveness and improve the environment for business start-up and growth. For 29 years we have worked on a range of issues to strengthen the policy ecosystem for entrepreneurship. Technology and telecommunications policy has remained a core issue since our founding, as the efficiencies and opportunities made possible through advanced technologies, broadband, and participation in the digital economy – with all of its tools and access points – are critical to small business growth and success, and the health of U.S. entrepreneurship and the economy in general.

Obviously, COVID-19 emphasized how critical broadband access is to everyday life, as connectivity became a direct lifeline for most Americans in accessing work, goods and services, school and educational pursuits, customers, health care, and social networks and family during an extended period of isolation and economic shut-down. Yet well before the onset of pandemic, SBE Council vigorously promoted policies and private sector initiatives to strengthen broadband access and deployment, as broadband availability and its affordable access is an essential tool in supporting healthy entrepreneurship, small business competitiveness, and local business growth.

To that end, while there are still areas of the country that lack access, a history of pro-investment policies has served to encourage steady deployment and innovation, which is central to America’s record of success and leadership on the broadband front. For example, during the pandemic, “U.S. broadband networks were able to better accommodate the COVID-19 crisis traffic surge compared to other nations,” according to a July 2020 report by the Internet Innovation Alliance. As noted in the report, “traffic ticked up between 20 and 40 percent” during the pandemic and “U.S. providers were able to maintain the same levels of service with almost no drop in performance.”  The broadband industry’s investment of more than $1.9 trillion in its networks (and ongoing investment of tens of billions of dollars more directed toward expanding and improving high-speed internet access every year) is no doubt responsible for this record of achievement and success. In short, private investment has created a significant return-on-investment for consumers and small businesses, with widespread, competitive high-speed internet available to 97% of Americans (according to the FCC).

Still, such success does not offer comfort to Americans and communities that lack access, or those who cannot afford broadband. And that is why SBE Council supports the timely and efficient implementation of the broadband provisions within the Infrastructure Act; the continuation of policies in general that promote private investment; the modernization of policies that are preventing timely deployment and the availability of next-generation technologies; a modernized Universal Service program that promotes certainty and funding stability; and staying away from hyper-regulatory policies that produce unintended consequences – ones, for example, that would undermine connectivity, affordability and adoption.

With respect to potential rules aimed at “preventing digital discrimination,” SBE Council has concerns that – taken too far – such rules may create unintended consequences that undermine the goal of broadband access for all, which would harm those that the new regulatory action purportedly aims to help.  Potential complexity, obscurity and litigiousness could cause much needed private investment to pull back. A robust, innovative, world-class broadband network needs massive amounts of ongoing private sector investment. Tying up or diverting capital away from this important activity – due to intrusive and complex government rules and/or mandates – would be a blow to America’s digital competitiveness and future.

Make no mistake, SBE Council supports broadband access for every American. A dynamic, inclusive economy depends on quality broadband access. Whether it’s the next generation of wireless technology, or providing rural communities with broadband access for the first time, we strongly believe that access to the digital economy is essential for every American to pursue opportunity and their dreams.

Prior to an effort that seeks to define digital discrimination or digital discrimination of access (or to address it) SBE Council believes it is important to fully explore how and if existing or conflicting government policies (and at all levels) are affecting the availability of broadband or its costs. For example, what role do local, state, and federal rules and regulations play in hampering broadband deployment and access. And how do these rules, and various taxes, impact access as it relates to affordability?

Furthermore, poor digital literacy skills or access to education and training could be deterring some people’s inclination, desire, or ability to become fully connected. This needs to be taken into consideration in the development of potential rules and/or policy guidelines and best practices for state and local governments. Moreover, some Americans may lack access to the devices or computers needed to access broadband and the internet. To what extent would these factors be weighted or integrated in a potential rule?

We bring these issues to the attention of the Commission because the challenges and solutions to closing the digital divide are multi-faceted. And as noted above, the solutions SBE Council favors – continued private investment and policies supporting long-term investment, a modernized Universal Service program, the efficient and judicious implementation of infrastructure projects, fixing and streamlining outdated and costly barriers to deployment, improving educational programs and outreach focused on digital literacy, and a smart and stable regulatory environment – are multi-faceted in how they address the digital divide. Obscure and complex government rules could discourage needed private-sector participation in closing the final frontiers of the digital divide while putting the future of the U.S. digital ecosystem at risk.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the proposal. SBE Council looks forward to our ongoing engagement with Commission and the opportunity to provide future comments on this proceeding.


Karen Kerrigan

President & CEO


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