In the 1940s, the humble dial tone made its debut. For telephone users accustomed to a stony silence that left them unsure if their calls were going through, this was a welcome change. It also rang in a new era of access, where the U.S. government committed to bring every American a basic connection to the phone network, and required the phone system to operate under common-carriage rules, which required it to treat all calls and callers equally.
Today, access to high-speed Internet service is the dial tone of the last century — and, for many of us, it’s a non-issue. It’s in our offices, our coffee shops and, regrettably for parents of teenagers, on our cell phones.
But, as freshman Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) might say, the system is rigged. Fully one-third of Americans can’t afford high-speed Internet. The rest are overpaying for substandard service in a so-called market that has been carved up by cable and telecom monopolists.
This has led to an increasing digital divide. According to the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, the one in five adults who still does not use the Internet is more likely to be older, less educated, and low-income, and less likely to speak English as a native language.
Comcast, AT&T and Verizon have bought their way in Washington and stymied regulators in the courts, successfully weakening nearly all protections for consumers and the public interest. This doesn’t just threaten American pocketbooks. It threatens American democracy. Media giants use their market power to dominate telecommunications start-ups, stifling entrepreneurship. They’re waging war on the concept of “net neutrality,” which would prevent broadband providers from blocking sites or competing applications so that consumers have equal access to all information.
Worst of all, these corporate conglomerates are increasingly using their market power to dominate content businesses. A handful of media giants are controlling not only how we access information but also what information we have access to.
Enter Susan Crawford, a leading telecommunications policy expert and longtime champion of net neutrality. She promotes a reasonably priced, globally competitive, ubiquitous communications infrastructure that enables American competition and innovation. Above all, she is committed to making high-speed Internet access a universal, affordable resource.
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