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America's Successful Telecom Experiment | Commentary

Regulators in Europe who have experienced this kind of regulation say it doesn’t work. “Everyone deserves fast broadband. I want to burn the red tape that is stopping us from getting there,” argues European Commission Vice President Neelie Kroes.

Meanwhile, the Body of European Regulators of Electronic Communications is urging member states to abandon state run broadband networks.

We’re not without high-tech challenges of our own, of course. Twenty-eight percent of U.S. homes do not subscribe to broadband service. A few rural communities remain out of reach for the fastest services. These real, tangible challenges are the focus of federal policies aimed at creating incentives — including grants and low-interest loans — for private investment in rural broadband, subsidizing broadband service and connected devices for low-income families, and promoting digital literacy training for first-time subscribers.

Congress can also help by extending current law that stops states and localities from taxing Internet service, by passing California Democratic Rep. Doris Matsui’s bill that would update the FCC’s Universal Service Fund to allow low-income families to use LifeLine funds to subsidize to an Internet connection rather than phone service, and by encouraging the FCC to free up more spectrum for the next generation of wireless broadband services.

Far from a laissez-faire approach, American broadband policy has encouraged investment in multiple technologies and used carefully targeted taxpayer funding to fill in gaps in both deployment and adoption. But if Europe is telling us, “We’ve tried old-school regulation and you won’t like it,” we should listen.

Former Rep. Edolphus Towns represented New York’s 10th District from 1993 to 2013, and its 11th District from 1983 to 1993, serving on the House Energy Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet. He is co-chairman of the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council’s New Telecom and Internet Policy Task Force.

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