Hands off broadband expansion

Posted Dec. 31, 2009, at 5:52 p.m.

The results of the off-year elections in Virginia and New Jersey should serve as red flags to members of Congress from across the country. Washington has spent almost all of 2009 debating additional and new federal regulations on everything from health care and energy to the Internet. However, in Maine and across the U.S., job creation is the top issue — not more regulations to address problems that do not exist.

Misguided politicians continue to take aim at one of the few bright spots on the job creation horizon — the construction and operation of broadband infrastructure. They wanted to slap government controls and mandates on how private broadband networks are managed. Even in good economic times, this is unwise and unnecessary; in this time of downturn, it is foolhardy and will cost jobs and investment.

And Maine is not immune. According to the latest figures released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the rate of unemployment for Maine is 8.2 percent. And since October 2008, there have been almost 20,000 jobs lost in Maine. While these numbers are disheartening, there is one sector of the American economy that continues to create jobs, produce innovative technologies and provide a multitude of benefits for consumers.

That industry is the U.S. Internet industry.

In communities across the U.S., substantial private investment in broadband Internet infrastructure is underway. Soon Americans will have access to faster, next-generation, Internet services which will enhance the way we live, work, educate and play. Broadband is one of the fundamental infrastructures needed in the 21st century global economy. We must remember that as the broadband sector continues to do its part to grow our economy and create jobs, the U.S. cannot afford to have policymakers in Washington legislate new policies that would derail this industry that is currently thriving.

It is hard to understand then why the Federal Communications Commission recently announced its intent to regulate the Internet. Proponents of this regulation refer to it as “net neutrality,” but it is really more government intervention that will hurt a booming industry disguised with a “feel good” bumper-sticker slogan.

While it doesn’t make sense to regulate an industry that doesn’t need regulation, it really doesn’t make sense when those regulations will cost the nation jobs.

The broadband ecosystem — technology, media, cable and telecommunications — sustains 10 million American jobs each year. More than four million of those jobs are indirectly sustained in areas like network administrators in hospitals and schools. According to a June 2007 study sponsored by the Brookings Institution, for every broadband penetration percentage point increase in a state, employment in that state increases two to three tenths of a percent per year.

What does this tell us? Access to broadband and broadband adoption is essential to a growing a 21st century workforce and a thriving economy. For Maine to increase jobs, we must increase broadband access and adoption and this cannot be done with burdensome and unnecessary government regulations

Our economy needs jobs and regulating them away will not help the U.S. get out of this recession. Politicians and bureaucrats in Washington cannot ignore the outcomes of the Virginia and New Jersey statewide elections — a clear signal that Washington should slow down and really evaluate the economic impact of any new regulations, especially on the Internet.

David McClure is the president and CEO of the US Internet Industry Association. It is the North American trade association for Internet commerce, content and connectivity. Founded in 1994, USIIA advocates effective public policy for the Internet and provides its members with essential business news, information, support and services.

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