In the eternal fight for justice and equality, access to a high-speed Internet connection has emerged as among the most critical civil-rights issues of the 21st century. Yet almost 100 million Americans remain offline. Among the unconnected are millions of African Americans and low-income households, including hundreds of thousands in Florida.
According to the Pew Internet Research Center, only 62 percent of African Americans and 56 percent of Hispanics have a broadband connection at home. And people lacking a high-school diploma make up only 28 percent of broadband users, while only 52 percent of people making less than $30,000 a year use broadband at home.
Our first priority must be closing the broadband-adoption gaps so that those most in need may benefit from this transformative technology.
However, the growing opportunities are at risk as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) debates new rules for Internet access. Currently, the FCC is empowered by Congress to enact rules under its legally recognized authority to regulate broadband as an information service.
There are those, however, who think that the FCC ought to reclassify broadband as a telecommunications utility — an untested move that would have the effect of slowing down broadband deployment at a time when we need fast broadband deployed everywhere to close the digital divide.
Unlike the Title II, or common carrier utility regulation, approach of a bygone era, the FCC’s current authority under Section 706 of the 1996 Telecommunications Act will better achieve our goals of making sure that all Americans adopt and use broadband and reap the benefits of an open Internet.
To maximize the potential of broadband to improve the lives of communities of color, we must be steadfast in our pursuit of universal broadband adoption. This is particularly important for Florida given the large rural and urban communities that are underserved.
The Florida NAACP agrees with the four dozen national minority organizations — including the National NAACP — in endorsing Section 706 regulation. That’s the authority the FCC should use in crafting new open Internet rules. Congress should deny any proposals that would reclassify broadband as a telecommunications utility.
Adora Nweze, president,
Florida State Conference NAACP,