(Special to The Root) — The Internet has changed America perhaps even more profoundly than the telegraph, television or Motown Records. Much the way these earlier innovations shrank the spaces between Americans and unleashed new market forces, access to broadband has opened up a whole new way of doing business that crosses lines of culture and geography. In order for the Internet to continue to flourish and become even more accessible, policymakers need to rethink outdated telecommunications regulations so that carriers can keep investing in the expansion of next-generation networks.
Innovations in broadband technology have transcended the boundaries of the wired world. Today mobile devices like smartphones and tablets act as general-purpose computers complete with nearly 1.5 million available apps. These gadgets are helping to close the digital divide.
Seventy-one percent of African Americans are now connected to the Internet, according to Pew Research, and have access to information and opportunities that did not exist 20 years ago. The African-American community also has an overall smartphone-adoption rate that is higher than the national average, according to Pew Research (49 percent for African Americans versus 46 percent for Americans overall).
Huge amounts of digital data are consumed through these mobile devices, causing carriers to struggle to deliver ever-increasing network coverage and faster service. The wireless carriers’ ongoing ability to provide information that consumers access on a daily basis — wherever, whenever — can be enhanced by the migration of America’s communications networks away from outdated legacy phone-line networks and toward Internet Protocol-based, or IP-based, infrastructure.
The rate of home broadband adoption within the African-American community is lower than that of the general population in the United States and 16 percent lower than the white rate. This can largely be attributed to accessibility and affordability issues.
Putting smart policies in place to promote the IP transition would help address these concerns. With the right incentives, incumbent telephone companies could invest in and build faster, more robust and more dynamic IP-based networks that would provide residential customers with additional competitive choices for video, high-speed broadband and voice services. Accelerating the IP transition would also have the positive effect of shifting the cost burden of maintaining antiquated, legacy voice networks away from voice subscribers in communities of color, who would disproportionately have to pay the costs of maintaining outdated networks without the benefit of access to new services provided by next-generation networks being built at the same time.