- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 1, 2010

Two weeks ago, the Federal Communications Commission(FCC) released its blueprint for the future of high-speed broadband access. As Chairman Julius Genachowski said, “In today’s global economy, leading the world in broadband is leading the world.” And we agree. This thoughtful and comprehensive national broadband plan willcreatethousands - if not millions - of jobs, propelling the United States back to the forefront of innovation.

Butcommunications networks for businesses, like interstate highways, mean little if people cannot access them. It may seem counterintuitive, but in our country, there are more wires into the average home than into the average business.

The benefits of a business-intensive broadband plan are numerous. Imagine paring billions from the high cost of health care with easier storage and retrievalof electronic medical records. Imagine faster and more accurate patient diagnoses with better access to telemedicine. Imagine the boost in telecommuting with itsresulting “green” and time savings. And imagine the productivity businesses could achieve with cloud computing, virtualization and collaboration. None of these are possible without faster connections and greater availability to broadband services than what businesses have today.

Competitive communications providers can play an important role in deployingthese broadband solutions. But this will require rules that guarantee competition is fair and prevent any entity from slowing the pace of innovation. Today, there are still islands of broadband desert - places incities where business broadband service is either grossly overpriced or, sometimes, simply not available. Competitive providers, like mine, are eager to fix the problem, but we need the FCC’s help in ensuring a level playing field exists to support a pro-competitive environment.

Put simply, affordable broadband service is as necessary today as printing presses, typewriters and personal computers were 20 years ago.It’s about achieving greater productivity, stimulating innovation and creating jobs. An oft-cited Brookings Institution-MIT researchstudy found that a mere 1 percent increase in U.S. per-capita broadband penetration equates to an additional 300,000 American jobs. And consider this: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, average worker productivity between 1971 and 1994 increased at a flat 1.5 percent annual rate.In contrast, from 1995 to 2009, the rate of increase skyrocketed to an unprecedented 6.6 percent. This is a result, in large part, to the emergence and expansion of broadband services. These findings are echoed in a study released in January by the Public Policy Institute of California. The group analyzed broadband penetration patterns across the country and concluded that employment grows faster in places where access to broadband has expanded.

Using national broadband data from the FCC and economic data from government and other sources for all 50 states between 1999 and 2006, the report concluded: “Our analysis indicates a positive relationship between broadband expansion and economic growth. This relationship is stronger in industries that rely more on information technology and in areas with lower population densities.”

The cause and effect is obvious:Faster Internet connections increase wages, decrease unemployment and spur innovation.Business broadband is not just a strategy for economic growth, it is economic growth.

Not since the era of rural electrification in the 1930s has sustained economic recovery across the nation been so tethered to access to technological services. To escape the worst economic downturn in generations and build a foundation for growth, the U.S. needs a national broadband strategy aimed directly at expanding broadband access to underserved businesses and communities.

The FCC can lead us out of this economic morass by fixing current regulations that are not serving the economic needs ofAmerica’s businesses. The commis- sioners have gotten the message that the status quo is not working. The broadband needsof businesses are growing exponentially, andpolicymakers would be best served to promote access to the latest technologies everywhere.

The FCC’s National Broadband Plansets a model for competition in business markets. In practice, this political and regulatory visionwill help achieveequality forall business broadband providers, not just the largest ones. It will help encourage innovation and promote the availability of competitive services to small and large businesses. The result: more competitive prices, improved service and the creation of technology-based jobs. And that is something America and its businesses need in 2010 and beyond.

Larissa Herda is chairman and CEO of tw telecom of Littleton, Colo.

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