Many actions by the U.S. government have helped facilitate the growth of our nation’s broadband infrastructure. For example, policymakers decided to make more government-controlled spectrum — the invisible airwaves that carry radio signals, television broadcasts, voice calls and data traffic — available for high-speed commercial mobile-broadband service. They also did not impose monopoly telephone regulations on competitive new IP-based services and encouraged agencies to use the Internet to connect, serve and inform citizens.
The government can take similar steps to promote investment and deployment of IP-based, high-speed wire-line broadband networks. There is no doubt that broadband is transforming how we work, live, play and learn. Every sector of our economy and facet of our lives is being remade by real-time, high-speed connectivity. As a result, policymakers and industry leaders should view the future with a blend of optimism and humility.
Perhaps the only reliable rule for predicting technology trends is that we tend to overestimate changes in the near term and underestimate them in the long term. Although we know that broadband is changing everything, policymakers can never truly predict the next innovation. Too often, any efforts to force or regulate an unknowable future limit competition and miss disruptive innovations — technology that blows up the status quo — along the way.
The future of broadband is bright, and the benefits to America in general and the African-American community in particular could be boundless. The Federal Communications Commission has the opportunity to help lead the IP transformation in America for the benefit of all communities, particularly those currently lacking access to high-speed wire-line and wireless Internet services.
The same way that Motown unleashed the creativity of an entire generation, the Internet will — if policymakers ensure that adequate training and opportunities are available for all Americans, and if they let our innovators innovate and our entrepreneurs compete — keep creating the technological equivalent of music we can all dance to.
Jamal Simmons, an adviser to corporate, nonprofit and political clients and a former Clinton-administration appointee, is co-chairman of the Internet Innovation Alliance.
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