Commentary: Putting Rural America On Line

By Dave McClure

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

Washington, Nov. 15 - Deploying broadband and the development of new innovative technology is the foundation to solving our nation's most pressing problems. Broadband technology is building the path to a more innovative and high tech society. High speed, ultra fast broadband is creating millions of new high paying jobs and transforming the way our society functions.

With broadband, no longer should any American's opportunities be limited to what can be found in a public library or daily newspapers. High speed broadband enables millions of Americans to increase their quality of education, life and even health. Broadband networks allow for the efficient use of information such as health records, educational resources and multimedia to travel across the globe.

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The communications industry is investing more than $70 billion a year in critical infrastructure and next generation networks to expand broadband access to nearly every community in the United States. Access to advanced broadband networks is critical to helping our rural communities continue to grow and thrive. In order for the U.S. to achieve even greater broadband adoption, lawmakers and regulators must foster environments that continue to encourage investment and innovation in the Internet ecosystem and not slow it down with overly prescriptive regulations.

Yet the Federal Communication Commission is poised to implement so called “net neutrality” regulations, that if put into effect would stall investment in one of the few industries that is creating jobs in the U.S. The Recovery Act appropriated $7.2 billion for broadband expansion and a further $2.5 billion specifically targeted to rural areas. Together with private sector investments, broadband has expanded in rural areas from covering just 38% of people in rural areas to covering nearly half (46%). In the FCC's National Broadband Plan they estimate that an additional $350 billion will be needed in order to achieve widespread adoption of broadband technology.

The strict net neutrality regulations proposed by the FCC will cloud the investment outlook for internet service providers. As the stimulus funds begin to taper off, broadband investment will be driven almost exclusively through private industry. This investment will be crucial to the economic recovery. According to one study, a 7% Increase in broadband penetration in underserved parts of the country could add $134 billion in economic growth.

The arguments in favor of net neutrality regulations are unclear at best, and have the potential to stall many of the improvements that have taken place in rural broadband access. Net neutrality regulations would discourage broadband providers from investing large amounts of capital in their networks. Without these investments, many broadband-dependent projects, such as telemedicine, virtual education and energy reduction will be threatened. Declining investment would also translate into job losses.

Imposing net neutrality regulations on Internet service providers would prohibit these companies from prioritizing internet traffic for telemedicine, virtual education and telecommuting - all of which are vital to the foundation of rural communities. In a down economy, lawmakers and regulators should be fostering environments that encourage investment and innovation. Allowing the Internet ecosystem to remain free and competitive will maximize the benefits of broadband for rural areas.

Millions of Americans have experienced the benefits of high speed broadband but those days could be numbered if some at the FCC have their way and adopt policies that will stifle investment, innovation and job growth. The Internet must continue to innovate and bring solutions to our society's most pressing problems and implementing net neutrality regulations is a step in the wrong direction.

  • Dave McClure is president of the United States Internet Industry Association (USIIA).

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