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Monday, July 30, 2012

The FCC, Broadband for Small Business, and Innovation's Future

Universal broadband is critical for small business owners and people who want to start enterprises. Still, many individuals in the U.S. do not have access to broadband (or reliable service).  SBE Council continues to push for policies that promote investment in our nation's broadband infrastructure to ensure access, affordability, reliability and continued innovation.

On July 18, the House Small Business Committee held a hearing appraising the role of the federal government in expanding broadband access to small businesses across the country. At the hearing, Committee members underscored the need to bring more broadband access and certainty to rural and unserved areas of the nation.  As several Committee members noted, small business owners need reliable broadband access to grow and create jobs:

"One of the most important tools the Internet offers to businesses is the ability to access the global electronic marketplace," said Chairman Sam Graves (R-MO). "Increased access will allow more small businesses to compete and enter the global market. To grow and create jobs, small businesses need to be able to count on reliable broadband. We've heard from a number of carriers regarding the regulatory uncertainty in deploying broadband to new areas. Small businesses must have stability to make decisions that last for years, which includes any investment or new jobs."

Several federal agencies, including Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Julius Genachowski, provided testimony at the hearing. Committee members queried the Chairman and other witnesses about their policies and regulatory initiatives and whether they've considered what the impact would be on private investment in broadband and wireless infrastructure.

In his opening comments, Chairman Graves underscored the importance of investment, and the consequences of misguided government regulation and intervention: "First, when agencies consider new policies, like reforming the universal service fund, we need to ensure that these changes do not diminish the incentives for private sector investment to deploy broadband. And second, I encourage you to accelerate the supply of spectrum for wireless providers to keep up with the growing demand. The boom in wireless smart phones and tablets has created a new market of innovation and capabilities for small businesses that must continue. Without private sector investment in broadband infrastructure, many small businesses in rural areas, like northwest Missouri, will be disconnected from one of the most powerful tools of our generation, which will in turn hamper their success."

SBE Council applauds Chairman Graves for expressing the need for the federal government to accelerate the supply of spectrum -- without more "airwaves" to run our mobile and wireless devices, the cost of using these critical tools will go higher and reliability and innovation will suffer. The spectrum crunch is real. Government must make more spectrum available, while making it easier for the private sector to allocate unused spectrum to the players who need it.

To that end, the FCC has been moving at a snail's pace in getting these auctions going -- they also seem to want to manage the outcome of the auctions, which is both impractical and misguided.  It seems the FCC's approach on a wide array of issues is to micromanage or intrude in areas where intrusion in unwarranted.  It's no wonder that Congress is looking at setting boundaries around the FCC's work and regulatory authority.
On a positive note, the newest FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai is bringing a modern and fresh perspective to the Commission. In a recent speech, he presented a proposal to "unlock investment and innovation in the digital age" by promoting entrepreneurs, holding the FCC accountable, and providing clarity to the broadband industry. This would be a bold change for the FCC as it has been more of a nuisance to progress.  We need a FCC that will enable investment, and power America's broadband future.

Karen Kerrigan, President & CEO 

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