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Broadband investment to create more jobs in Illinois

Broadband investment to create more jobs in Illinois.  It seems like smartphones have been around a long time. But the iPhone only went on the market in 2007. The first iPad hit the shelves less than three years ago. Now Apple has sold 100 million of them.

It happened so fast.

The current pace of communications innovation is remarkable. Broadband, smartphones, tablets and wireless communications technology are changing how we work and how we live. Businesses are using technology to instantly communicate with employees and customers, access records and information from a remote location, telecommute or manage a fleet. Today, employers that embrace modern communications technology can make their business more profitable. Meanwhile, consumers are demanding modern communications technology in the products and services they purchase – in their cars, their kitchens and even their combines.

Virtually every business in Illinois – no matter its size – is relying more heavily on wired and wireless broadband networks every hour of every day. That is why strong broadband networks are essential. They are the modern infrastructure to our new economy.

This critical importance is why I took the opportunity to represent the Illinois Chamber at a State Capitol press conference last week to announce the results of a new Illinois broadband jobs study and to launch a new coalition – the Illinois Partnership for the New Economy & Jobs – formed to advocate for change that will promote additional private sector broadband investment in Illinois.

The Navigant Economics study, from Illinois-based economist Debra Aron and Washington DC-based economist Hal Singer, shows in 2010 and 2011 at least $2.2 billion was invested in Illinois broadband networks, creating more than 13,000 jobs in the state. This figure includes direct jobs in the telecommunications industry and downstream or “spillover jobs” in all of the other economic sectors that enjoy the benefits of broadband, including health care, telemedicine, public safety, education, transportation and many others.

In addition, this study notes that Illinois had nearly 20,000 jobs in the “mobile app economy” as of last April. These are jobs where employers are creating applications or “apps” for increasingly popular mobile devices in a wireless world. The mobile app economy didn’t even exist before that first iPhone launched in 2007.

These results are one reason why the Illinois Partnership for the New Economy & Jobs coalition is advocating for the Illinois General Assembly to adopt a modern communications law designed to attract more investment in broadband. While the days of monopoly telephone service are long gone, some of those outdated regulations remain in our state law. Obsolete regulations are deterring investment in our state’s broadband networks. Neighboring states have already adopted communications laws that have provided greater regulatory certainty and marketplace flexibility to encourage more broadband investment.  In order to effectively compete for limited private investment dollars Illinois policies must be less restrictive and more competitive.

Frankly, as much as some regulators and lawmakers may wish to think they can manage the telecommunications industry government simply cannot keep pace with the speed of communications innovation and competitive markets we encounter today.

But there is good news. The state’s current communications law expires this year. Surprisingly, it was updated just two years ago. Yet, it is already deficient when compared to changes adopted by other states.

The General Assembly has an opportunity to advance our economy and promote job creation infrastructure by approving a more modern communications law this spring. Compared to issues like restructuring public employee pensions, paying delinquent bills and passing a balanced budget the adoption of a modern telecommunications policy is an easy task.

It will not cost the State of Illinois one dime, but will incent more job growth and investment in the state’s economy which are two very important elements that are critical to helping the state meet its fiscal responsibilities.

“Modernization” of the state’s communications law means moving to a regulatory structure that reflects today’s marketplace – rampant competition for consumers across multiple communications technologies and, in addition, the recognition that consumers have made their choice, and they are choosing broadband and wireless technologies for communications. Consumers have largely abandoned voice only landlines. Our economy and our interpersonal communication is transitioning to an Internet Protocol platform that delivers voice, data and video .

The new coalition launched with a powerful spectrum of voices from throughout the state outlining the importance of wired and wireless broadband networks to employers, competition and job creation.

The Illinois Chamber of Commerce joined with the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, Illinois Business Roundtable, Illinois Manufacturers’ Association, Taxpayers’ Federation of Illinois and AT&T Illinois. Two local chambers – the Chicago Southland Chamber and the Greater Springfield Chamber – were on hand and signed on to be members of the coalition.  The Women’s Business Development Center, Chicagoland Chamber, Illinois Black Chamber, Illinois Hispanic Chamber and the Illinois Telecommunications Association round out the initial members of the coalition.

With more broadband investment into Illinois, more jobs will be created in Illinois. The goal is to see the General Assembly embrace a contemporary communications law that does not have to be revisited every other year. Stay tuned for progress.

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