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In less than a generation, the internet has grown from a curiosity—”something cool you gotta see”—to a core requirement of modern life—”something critical you gotta have.”
Education, jobs, social connection, entertainment, culture and politics have all moved almost entirely online. Most of the big national employers do not take paper job applications anymore and even the most basic rights like social protest and citizen organizing have gone digital. Black Lives Matters is a movement, but there’s no denying it’s also a hashtag.
As an investor in and adviser to socially-minded startups—and as a parent of two young children—I spend a lot of time grappling with the question of how we can build a better world for the next generation. As the digital revolution remakes almost every aspect of our lives, it’s more clear than ever that any forward-looking agenda must focus on expanding digital access and participation. We cannot build a more equal America, or a future with greater opportunity and economic mobility, if large numbers of Americans are stuck on the wrong side of a growing digital divide.
The components of such an agenda are relatively straightforward and well understood. We must encourage the broadest possible effort to build new networks and wire unserved communities and give every American an affordable pathway to high-speed internet access. We need training and education resources to level the playing field and erase the differences between digital haves and have nots—and we need to ensure that tech and digital jobs are open to all comers. Above all, we need strong policies to make the internet open and free and prevent Big Tech monopolies from distorting or undermining opportunity and competition online.
One of the most important things we can do to make this happen is to push Congress to enact a strong “net neutrality” law ensuring all viewpoints and communities have full access to the internet and that no one can block access to websites or manipulate the flow of data to silence critics or competitors.
While some prefer to have the executive branch regulate net neutrality instead of Congress, it’s too risky to leave open internet rules under the control of politically appointed partisans at the Federal Communications Commission. That’s a recipe for perpetual uncertainty, with massive and disruptive policy swings every time the majority of the five-person commission changes party hands. A congressional statute is the only way to give lasting, permanent protection to everyone who depends on the internet to organize, criticize, and participate—immune from override or attack. And the need for Democratic votes in the Senate ensures that such a law will genuinely protect free speech online and cannot be a Trojan Horse for censorship or abuse.