Amid all the progress since the commercialization of the Internet, one broadband policy issue stands out as perhaps the most challenging to resolve: digital literacy and broadband adoption. Early gains in broadband adoption have tapered off, and a quarter of American adults still choose to not subscribe. But despite the real, persistent problem of the digital divide, the tech policy world remains transfixed by the entirely different issue of net neutrality.
But there is now a rare window of political opportunity to address both issues at once.
Please join ITIF on Thursday, October 29 for an expert panel discussion of a new ITIF report proposing a legislative grand bargain that would give the FCC clear jurisdiction to regulate net neutrality while at the same time appropriating significant new funds for a national digital divide initiative.
Perhaps because net neutrality fears are more abstract, allowing imaginations to run wild, far more ink has been spilled over largely theoretical concerns of blocking, throttling, and prioritization than the concrete struggle to get all Americans online. The efficiencies we would gain if businesses and government could operate under the assumption that everyone uses broadband justify significant policy intervention. On top of that are the tremendous social gains of getting everyone online.
However the past year saw many advocates spend enormous political capital, not on closing the digital divide, but on seeing broadband regulated under Title II of the Communications Act. But Title II not only hurts network innovation and investment, it could very well see net neutrality protections fail. The controversial classification could fall in the courts or be walked back by the next Administration. In which case expect another year-long squabble over net neutrality while that quarter of our citizens are still unconnected.
This confluence presents an historic opportunity which both political parties and the various camps in the net neutrality debate should seize. Giving the FCC clear jurisdiction to regulate net neutrality and appropriating significant new funds for a national digital divide initiative would lock in net neutrality protections while finally enacting policy that could lead to real progress in closing the digital divide.