The economic chasm that has opened up between rural and urban/ suburban communities has grown increasingly stark as access to broadband internet has become ever more critical to economic viability. Many rural communities either have little access to broadband of any sort, or can only access it through a single provider, which often charges incredibly high prices for modest speeds.
Despite hearing rhetoric about expanding broadband access from the past two administrations, the FCC has failed to move forward on expansion because they are simply giving subsidies to telecom giants like Verizon and Comcast. These companies are receiving billions to improve rural broadband, but as you know, we have yet to see much, if any, improvement. The FCC even attempted to reduce the definition of broadband to 10 Mbps (the current standard is 25) so they could claim to have "improved coverage."
To quote FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, “I’m glad that the FCC has backed away from its crazy idea to lower the broadband speed standard. But it defies logic to conclude that broadband is being reasonably and timely deployed across this country when over 24 million Americans still lack access.”
I’d like to see a few changes so that underserved communities can receive the internet access that is vital to their future:
- Remove restrictions that prevent local municipalities from creating their own network providers. Even most areas of Little Rock have at most 2 providers- many areas of the state have only one provider, and some have none at all.The big companies don't see the value in investing in rural communities, so we should give them the ability to invest in themselves.
- Instead of tossing piles of cash at Verizon, AT&T, and Comcast and fail to solve the problem, make those FCC funds available to smaller local groups to build the networks they need. That could include municipalities (through Community Broadband efforts), local co-ops, or even companies like Artelco, as long as they actually spend the money to improve your and your neighbors' connections— any legislation should include metrics to show real improvement in coverage and/or speed.
- Restore common carrier and net neutrality provisions to insure that all of these networks, from the smallest towns to the major providers, receive fair, full, and unrestricted access to share data across the whole internet, just like we insure all Americans access to the Interstates and highways in their cars.
The economic and social benefits of a program of rural broadband expansion would dwarf the cost of implementing it. Individuals would no longer have to leave the communities in which their families have lived for generations simply to start a business or provide their children with a quality education. While reviving rural communities is a long term process, it is imperative that we make the crucial first step of recognizing that high speed internet access is a public good to which every American has a right.