Access to broadband has become a necessity for America's entrepreneurs and small business owners. That was the message I delivered to scores of Capitol Hill staffers at a Broadband for America briefing on March 24.
Former FCC Chairman Michael Powell, who currently serves as Broadband for America's Co-Chairman, was also on hand for the event. He delivered compelling remarks about the importance of broadband, and provided a primer of sorts regarding the evolution of the Internet and telecommunications technology. Regulations, however, continue to stay inappropriately rooted in their siloed and outdated past.
I noted the benefits of broadband for small firms, and how entrepreneurs have increasingly turned to broadband for business solutions. The harsh recession forced many entrepreneurs to make tough cost-cutting decisions. Small business owners searched for and indentified solutions that allowed them to survive the recession's immediate tumult. Many of these changes have helped businesses transform operations for long-term competitiveness. Solutions made possible through broadband have helped business owners enhance productivity and increase sales. Many entrepreneurs were forced to move outside of their "comfort zones" - modifying "old" practices, or discarding some altogether. They have embraced innovative marketing techniques that are driving new revenue streams. Broadband made this possible.
A new AT&T Small Business Technology Poll 2011 released mid-March shows just how dependent small business owners have become on broadband and wireless technologies. According to the survey, 96 percent of small businesses use some form of wireless technologies to operate.
Key findings of the survey demonstrate the profound impact that broadband technology is having on small firms:
• More than 80 percent of small businesses use smart phones to maintain business operations
• 40 percent of small businesses report that all employees use wireless devices or technologies to work away from the office (up 66 percent from 2010)
• 72 percent of small businesses use mobile apps (38 percent say that they could not survive without such apps)
• 41 percent of small businesses have created a Facebook page for their company (an increase of 52 percent from 2010)
• 79 percent use WiFi hotspots to conduct business-related activities
Given the rate of broadband adoption by small businesses (and the accelerated rate of adoption of the myriad tools made possible through broadband) it should come as no surprise that many small business owners say they would find it challenging to survive without wireless technology - 64 percent feel that way, according to survey (three years ago, 42 percent said it would be difficult).
Indeed, broadband is a necessity for America's small business owners. As more entrepreneurs and individuals utilize broadband as a management and empowerment tool - for their businesses and their personal lives - the need increases for networks to be more robust and reliable.
That is why policy makers and elected officials need to understand the importance of maintaining an environment that encourages private sector investment. That means government, at all levels, must strive to produce a business environment that reduces uncertainty. Enabling and incentivizing private sector investment will continue to spur innovation and job growth. Billions upon billions of investment dollars will be necessary to make infrastructure upgrades all geared toward increasing network capacity and reliability. A steady stream of investment also nurtures and enables the innovation that is rapidly occurring within the broadband ecosystem.
A March 4, 2011 letter sent to Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) Administrator Cass Sunstein from Broadband for America leaders and members, including Honorary Co-Chairman Michael Powell (former FCC Chairman) and Harold Ford (former U.S. House Member), urged the FCC to reorient its regulatory approach in order to "clear the runway for continued investment and innovation in broadband services." One key principle outlined in the letter was the need for the FCC to "reverse the presumption in favor of regulation and rely more heavily on the market."
Indeed, it is clear that what the market and private sector investment have produced over the past ten to fifteen years is nothing less than remarkable. Particularly now, the government needs to be encouraging more private sector innovation and investment, not less. As we can see from the results of the AT&T survey, this is especially critical for America's small business sector.
Karen Kerrigan, President & CEO