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FCC National Broadband Plan Workshop: Opportunities for Small Business

BY Faye Anderson | Friday, September 4 2009

We're covering the FCC's on-going series of public workshops as it works to draft a National Broadband Plan. An archive of that coverage can be found here. -- the editors

Small businesses “are the heart of the American economy.” They employ about half of all U.S. workers.

The Small Business Administration reports that small businesses “have generated 60 to 80 percent of net new jobs annually over the last decade.”  Disadvantaged businesses (read: minority-owned) employ more than four million people.

It is said that necessity is the mother of invention. The jobless recovery, coupled with the changing demographics, make it imperative that small and disadvantaged businesses have affordable access to broadband and a fair chance to compete for federal contracts and funding opportunities.

High-speed Internet access is about more than bridging the digital divide. It’s also about access to a critical infrastructure. In short, broadband access matters to economic growth, job creation and civic participation.

The Federal Communications Commission’s staff workshop, “Opportunities for Small and Disadvantaged Businesses,” presented three panels of government officials, advocates, broadband entrepreneurs and business leaders who focused on the challenges and opportunities facing small and disadvantaged businesses.

Cheryl Johns, Assistant Chief Counsel for Telecommunications and Technology in the Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy underscored that small businesses are the engine of economic growth:

Why is broadband so important to small business? Because small businesses truly are the backbone of the U.S. economy…

Small businesses produce 40 percent of all high-tech employment. Small businesses produce 13 times as many patents per employee as large firms do in high-tech industries.

Noting that small businesses face a number of challenges to broadband access, including availability, affordability and reliability, Johns said:

The reliability of service is actually a large factor.  Small business owners they need to be able to communicate efficiently and effectively with their provider.  If a line drops or service goes out, they need to be able to be up and running as soon as possible. They may not have time to wait an hour on the telephone while they’re waiting for their service to be reconnected.

Timothy McNeill, Director of Policy and Partnership Development for the National Conference of Black Mayors, focused on the challenges facing urban and rural communities. After sharing stories of how the lack of broadband access limits economic growth in African American communities, McNeill observed:

They don’t have broadband.  And some of our city halls don’t have broadband. The only way we communicate with some of our mayors is by phone and by fax.

So to tell them that they have to go online to get this information, our communities continue to be left behind. It’s almost becoming two worlds or the next civil rights issue because we have these opportunities, and we don’t have access to the opportunities because we’re left in the dust.

The moderator, Thomas Reed, Director of the FCC Office of Communications Business Opportunities, asked what provisions should be included in the National Broadband Plan to ensure equitable broadband deployment and adoption.

The recommendations included providing incentives for incumbents to partner with small, women- and minority-owned businesses; educating consumers on the benefits of broadband adoption; and ensuring that broadband funding goes to areas defined as unserved or underserved.

The bottom line: The FCC should promote competition, level the playing field for small and disadvantaged businesses and craft rules that will protect and nurture new entrants in the broadband market.

A complete transcript of the workshop is available here.

The FCC is asking the public to respond to the workshop. You can join the conversation here.  Comments must be filed by Sept. 15.

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Faye M. Anderson is founder of Tracking Change Wiki.  She can be reached at trackingchange at gmail.com.

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