By Melanie Campbell, President & CEO, National Coalition on Black Civic Participation and Convener, Black Women’s Roundtable
Over the years, the Black Women’s Roundtable has focused on promoting health and wellness, economic security, education, and global empowerment for Black women. We adopt and support policies that can help reduce the socio-economic gaps that threaten to leave our communities behind. In our increasingly digital economy, we realize that high-speed Internet and advanced communications technologies are essential to these goals and represent a vital input to improving healthcare and educational outcomes. These tools also serve as a primary engine of entrepreneurship, employment, innovation, and economic development, all of which can profoundly benefit Black women and our community. That’s why we favor policies that promote a dynamic and inclusive Internet ecosystem.
Even though there are still too few Black women pursuing degrees in the STEM fields, we know that Internet-enabled entrepreneurship does not have any special degree requirements. Considering that businesses owned by Black women are emerging at a rate six times that of the national average, broadband-based tools, applications, and services play a particularly valuable role in furthering our economic prospects. And even as Black women create new businesses, we’re also often the heads of our households and primary caregivers for our families. As such, we benefit greatly from an Internet that enables us to streamline our personal and professional lives – whether we’re using mobile apps to engage in commerce or monitor vital health metrics, or looking to online programs to help us supplement our children’s education.
The Black Women’s Roundtable understands and appreciates the wide variety of relationships throughout the Internet ecosystem that help make our experiences as consumers, entrepreneurs, employees and producers of Internet content more impactful. That’s why we have been supportive of Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler’s desire to preserve the Open Internet. To reap maximum benefits online, making sure that people can access the lawful content of their choosing when they want is vital. Likewise, ensuring transparency on the part of broadband service, application, and content providers, as well as increasing consumer protections on the Internet, are all things that make our experiences better online. We want the Internet to continue to grow and thrive, much as it has over the past two decades. To do so, the FCC needs the authority to enforce Open Internet rules, while also ensuring that entrepreneurs and established businesses alike have the flexibility to explore innovative new models and practices.
To date, the Internet has been a tremendous tool for civic engagement, community organizing, and economic empowerment. We want these benefits to extend to everyone in our communities. To get there, we encourage the Commission to employ its authority under section 706 of the 1996 Telecommunications Act to enforce its Open Internet rules. This approach would more closely resemble the Internet landscape we’ve seen thus far, which has supported explosive growth in entrepreneurship, jobs and increased opportunities for access to education, healthcare and civic engagement. This is exactly the kind of growth we want to see continue. Any other approach, particularly ones that call for the reclassification of broadband and wireless data services, would take us into uncharted territory. And there is just too much at stake to risk continued growth and opportunity online.