Stearns Advocates Digital Equality at MMTC Summit

Stearns Advocates Digital Equality at MMTC Summit

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Congressman Cliff Stearns (R-FL) made an appearance at the Minority Media & Telecommunications Council’s Second Annual Broadband and Social Justice Summit this past week in Washington, D.C.  Stearns, who Chairs the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Oversight and Investigation Subcommittee and is a member of the Communications, Technology and Internet Subcomittee, was intensely focused on the role that broadband can and should play in the lives of Americans as a catalyst for innovation and economic development.

“Broadband has the potential to transform our every day lives,” he said in comments to Politic365, “from how we work, how we receive medical attention, and how we are entertained. Accordingly, we need a long-term investment in broadband infrastructure that is based on free market principles and not government run.”

According to Stearns, “[b]roadband technology will spur long-term economic growth by creating jobs, fostering innovation, increasing international competiveness, and improving the quality of life for all Americans.”  Stearns also noted that, “[r]obust broadband networks have the potential to transform how energy is generated and delivered.” Broadband “can fundamentally alter our economy,” he said, and “[w]e have a tremendous opportunity.”

Stearn was also adamant that, “we must prevent uncertainty in the market that could arise from proposals to regulate the Internet.” To these ends, the Oversight Subcommittee will conduct a hearing on the Federal Communications Commission’s authority to promulgate and implement the net neutrality rules the agency adopted last month.

“By creating a friendlier climate through tax incentives and by modifying or removing unnecessary regulations,” Stearns noted, “we can build a true 21st century economy that better competes globally.”   He went on to say that “unfounded pessimism is threatening to create a self-fulfilling prophecy,” regarding the attitude that some share about broadband access, adoption and use.

“Approximately 95 percent of the country has access to broadband and more than two-thirds subscribe,” he said, “according to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).”

“Thanks to deregulatory provisions in the 1996 Telecommunications Act,” said Stearns, “as well as deregulatory actions at the FCC under both Democrat and Republican chairmen, the number of residential users has skyrocketed to 200 million from 8 million just 10 years ago.  Yet despite these statistics, a disproportionately loud few suffering from regulatory withdrawal would have us turn back the clock.”

Stearns feels strongly that “[n]ow is not the time to drag us back towards regulatory policies designed for a 1930s world with a single phone company and no Internet.”

“The prevailing view of the era was that building competing networks was not realistic, efficient or desirable,” he said.  “In return for a regional monopoly and a guaranteed profit, providers agreed to submit to rate and service regulation intended to approximate the effects of competition. Today’s broadband is not our grandparents’ communications system and unless we want to turn it into the monopoly service of days gone by, we should not regulate it as such.”

Stearns also joined ranks with Congressman Bobby Rush (D-IL) and MMTC in ‘gently chastising’ the Commission for its failure to produce its triennial diversity report pursuant to Section 257 of the 1996 Telecommunications Act.  He firmly noted that the FCC has “been very slow in their response,” when asked about their progress in complying with this requirement of the Act, and said that “this is a very questionable area that I think is an oversight I could look at.”


4 COMMENTS

  1. I was impressed with his remarks and his depth on the issues around broadband expansion and use.

    I don't agree with all of his points — I think tax incentives distort the market, and I don't see how that comports with his defense of "net neutrality." But clearly he has given the subject a lot of study, and it is good to know that the issue is being led in Congress by someone with that kind of discipline and dedication.

  2. Rep. Stearns' idea of net neutrality is an Internet free of gov't regulation. He is also of the opinion that the FCC has no authority to regulate broadband, and that the present state of affairs vis-a-vis broadband access and adoption is just fine. His attitudes and politics are directly contrary to many facts about Internet in the U.S. relative to other developed countries. To wit: digital equality without consumer protections isn't possible.

  3. Glad to see that Rep. Stearn could come by and engage in this critical conversation. Free market principles are certainly important, but sometimes we need government to step up on behalf of Americans when there are issues of inequality. The simple fact that the FCC hasn't produced the diversity report mandated by the 1996 Act makes me question just how serious policymakers are about inclusion and equality in the technology sector. Hope to see something change soon!

  4. Overall, I thought Rep. Stearns' remarks on the importance of broadband to our development were very insightful. He mentioned that the current Telecom Act was drafted prior to the Internet. Because broadband is such an important part of communications ecosystem, it will be interesting to observe whether this Congress updates the Communications Act. If they do draft new legislation, I wonder which civil right provisions they will include or expand to ensure greater minority participation.

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