Jonathan Spalter

Choose Broadband Greatness

When the president delivers his State of the Union tonight, he should spend some time on one issue that Americans can all agree on: supporting an accessible, thriving and secure broadband infrastructure that delivers the internet experience consumers want and deserve.

Regardless of political party, age, race or geographical region, the internet plays such an integral role in each of our lives that it’s hard to imagine a time without it. Education and healthcare, communication and commerce — is all built off the backbone of strong and reliable broadband networks. To protect this foundation, the federal government must focus on innovative and forward-thinking policy that works for consumers and innovators alike.

First order of business – the administration and Congress should be working together on a serious national infrastructure bill that narrows the digital divide to rural and other underserved communities, supports broadband deployment, modernizes networks and gets more Americans connected to the internet while ensuring that every dollar devoted to doing so is used most efficiently, avoiding duplication, favoritism and overbuilding.

At the Consumer Electronics Show this year, we saw the future of tech laid out in all its glory — from laundry-folding robots to in-home assistants to artificial intelligence. But the one common denominator for each new gadget joining the market is a “future-proof” broadband infrastructure, with fiber capabilities that can be easily modified and upgraded as years go by.

And all that talk about 5G? It can’t and won’t exist without an extensive, ubiquitous wired backbone, and the hundreds of billions of dollars of investment by America’s broadband companies required to bring this “wireless” future to life.

Second, American communities also deserve a consistent federal policy that safeguards our open, thriving and dynamic internet. This means no blocking, throttling or anticompetitive paid prioritization. Our nation’s broadband providers wholeheartedly support an open internet, and support Congress addressing this issue once and for all by putting in place fair and enforceable rules that apply to all companies which interact with consumers online. After all, businesses of all stripes require certainty along with a level regulatory playing field to thrive, and following the Federal Communication Commission’s 2017 Restoring Internet Freedom Order — which returned regulation of ISPs to the light-touch regulatory structure that it had enjoyed for 20 years — private broadband investment is once again on the rise, up $1.5 billion from 2016 to 2017.

America’s internet service providers remain committed to the principles of the open internet. This is why, post-RIF order, we haven’t seen a single violation. What actually puts consumers — and the open internet we all cherish — at greatest risk? Fifty states imposing their own conflicting “solutions,” stifling plans for future private investment and creating an unnavigable maze of local regulation. There is only one internet, and there must be one set of consistent, clear and enforceable federal rules governing how it operates.

Third, the same consistent, federal approach will be also needed in protecting consumer privacy, an issue leaping to the forefront as the European Union enacts its much-talked-about General Data Protection Regulation and consumer uneasiness continues to swell here at home. During his confirmation hearing, attorney general nominee William Barr signaled that his Justice Department would take a more active role in consumer privacy on the web, and rightly so. Meanwhile, the Federal Trade Commission has shown itself to be both tough and determined as our new “cop on the beat” overseeing privacy enforcement not just for some companies who interact with consumer online, but for all of them.

Internet users should feel certain that sharing images, exchanging messages, visiting websites, engaging in commerce and sending sensitive data are the types of acts the entire internet ecosystem — from broadband providers to social media giants to search engines — are each equally obligated to protect.

Fourth, when dealing with privacy and security on the internet, there is no more direct threat to the security of sovereign nations, international businesses and individuals than cybercriminals. That is why public-private partnerships like the Council to Secure the Digital Economy are so vital, bringing innovators across communications and information technology industries together with government to forge shared solutions and bear shared responsibilities for action. Along with Congress, the president should promote solutions rooted in partnerships that includes effective security, ample consumer choice and flexibility, and reliable notifications when breaches occur.

The state of our union and our global competitiveness is dependent on the health, vitality, openness and resiliency of American broadband and the companies working to connect our communities. Both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue should unite in forging the bipartisan solutions of the future versus clinging to the division of the past. It is time to roll up our sleeves and get to work, together, on modernizing our broadband networks and ensuring that every American feels secure on our open, evolving, innovating and secure internet.

Jonathan Spalter is the president and CEO of USTelecom – The Broadband Association.

Note: This piece originally appeared as an op-ed in Morning Consult. You can view it here.