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Hollis: Digital Equality Will Help Boost the Economy

During Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign, James Carville told us all, “It’s the economy, stupid.” More than a decade later, the idea still rings true.

[IMGCAP(1)]Congress’s focus now is getting Americans back to work before returning home to face an angry electorate in November. Democrats in Congress need to lead and put forth policies that will spur job creation, competition and innovation. Broadband access is a crucial piece of that puzzle.

The Alliance for Digital Equality continues to stress the need to provide broadband access to underserved and unserved communities. Our goal is to educate Americans about the benefits of new broadband technologies and to be a voice for these underserved communities to raise awareness of the importance of new technologies regardless of socioeconomic status.

This week the Federal Communications Commission and the Social Science Research Council are set to roll out the findings of a study that examines broadband adoption in low-income communities. The study commissioned by the FCC complements the commission’s work to create a national broadband plan. We hope the findings, set to be released today, will highlight the importance of affordability and the need for public policies that will encourage the necessary investments in technology, infrastructure and education to bridge the gap of the digital divide that exists today.

We at the ADE know that we as a country cannot achieve our full potential if we continue to hold back people with potential. Communities of color should not be the last to adopt broadband because they are forced into becoming the first ones off because of cost concerns. In 2010, digital equality is as fundamental as all other democratic measures of equality. Access to broadband technology is no longer a luxury; it is an essential tool for all Americans. We applaud the Obama administration for recognizing the need to close the digital divide with a national broadband plan.

Having spent most of my career focused on financial markets and the banking industry, I know that more regulation will widen the digital divide into a chasm. More regulation of the Internet will stifle job creation, increase pricing and slow the rate of adoption and deployment. And that’s a pill that this economy cannot stomach. The foundation for the bridge that will close the digital divide must be policies that foster innovation and investment. That will ensure a robust Internet in the future and stimulate the economy through the creation of valuable American jobs. These policies will lead to competition that will drive prices down and adoption up.

Broadband is the technology that can bring our communities closer together, improve economic prospects and raise the standard of living for Americans who have been relegated to second-class status for too long. But only if it is available, affordable and adopted by the people who need it the most.

Broadband opens the door to endless opportunities — making it easier to educate our children, provide quality health care through telemedicine and, perhaps, even allow Sarah Palin to legitimately see Russia from Alaska.

Julius Hollis — a former staffer at the Export-Import Bank during the Carter administration and senior adviser to former U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young — serves as CEO and chairman of the Alliance for Digital Equality. The ADE is an Atlanta-based nonprofit consumer advocacy organization that serves to facilitate and ensure equal access to technology in underserved communities.

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