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Investment Is the Key for Women Entrepreneurs

Women represent an increasingly powerful force in the American economy. A recent study commissioned by the Center for Women’s Business Research showed that women business owners employ 23 million people in America, 16 percent of the U.S. work force. And for many smaller businesses in particular, this growth has been built on the information and technology revolution, in particular the increasing use of broadband to access the Internet faster and use it for more business applications and e-commerce.[IMGCAP(1)] But those opportunities are threatened by some dangerous rules that the Federal Communications Commission is about to propose. These regulations for ³net neutrality² may sound innocuous, but in fact they will hinder the economic progress that many women- and minority-owned businesses have enjoyed.Small businesses in particular depend on access to the latest technology and innovation at an affordable price. Today, entrepreneurs use technology extensively to manage their companies and interact with customers. They need a fast, reliable, well-managed network, not a patchwork of slow connections and an Internet dominated by ³bandwidth hogs.² But expanded net neutrality regulations would reduce investment in broadband networks. This will slow deployment of broadband across the country and concentrate deployment in wealthier areas, leading to increased economic disparities and reduced opportunities for people and businesses in areas without strong broadband access. In turn, this will mean less competition, increased costs for broadband that will hit small businesses hard, and less flexibility for those businesses to expand and compete. Who would want to buy products online from a slower Web site than a faster one?Instead of this dire scenario, consumer demand, innovation in technology, and robust competition between providers should drive changes in the telecommunications sector ‹ not government-imposed regulation. In particular, it is important to maintain incentives for strong private-sector investments in the broadband networks, which provide fast, reliable access to the Internet in both the wired and wireless formats. Without this investment, too many businesses will be constrained from growing.In just a few short years, broadband has become the backbone of American economic growth. In 2007, a study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Brookings Institution think tank found that ³a one digit increase in broadband penetration creates an additional 300,000 jobs.² Think what universal access to broadband could do at this time of high unemployment. Why would we want to move in the opposite direction through net neutrality regulations?More directly, many small businesses are themselves part of the broadband and information technology industries, for instance as software developers, technology consultants, or applications providers. In 2008, these industries generated more than half of all new jobs in America ‹ good jobs in growing industries during a time of recession. In short, for all businesses today, broadband is a vital tool for economic success, increasing productivity and making businesses of all sizes more efficient and competitive.My organization, Women Impacting Public Policy, is a national bipartisan public policy organization that advocates for and on behalf of women and minorities for policies that will expand economic opportunity, particularly for smaller businesses. We represent half a million members and 49 local Women in Business associations. As the FCC prepares to vote on net neutrality, we firmly believe that it should not move forward with these rules. But if it does so, at a minimum we want the commission to perform and release to the public a detailed analysis of how women and minorities would be impacted by reducing investment in networks and slowing deployment of broadband. We believe that this study would show that women- and minority-owned businesses would be among the most heavily impacted.Recently, the FCC announced that to achieve universal broadband access throughout the United States, there would need to be $350 billion of additional investment. This investment can come only from the private sector. It presents a unique opportunity for small businesses in the private sector to participate in the expansion of broadband access to everyone. But net neutrality regulations will remove much of the incentive for the private sector to invest and participate in broadband infrastructure projects.If the FCC is to reach its goal of connecting every home and business to broadband, we need greater investment, not regulations that will be at the expense of economic opportunity for everyone, including traditionally disadvantaged groups.Barbara Kasoff is president and CEO of Women Impacting Public Policy.

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