WASHINGTON, July 23, 2013 - Rural broadband was once again a hot topic on Capitol Hill as an event was held on the issue with a number of concerned parties in attendance. 

Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., gave the keynote address at the gathering and spoke of the opportunities for innovation rural broadband can provide as well as what elected officials could do to help or hurt that innovation. Pryor used his home state of Arkansas as an example of how difficult it can be to provide rural broadband coverage because of variances in geography such as mountainous regions can be a hinderance to the signal. While acknowledging the challenges facing effective rural broadband coverage, Pryor said there’s no reason to lag behind in development in one area of business while allowing others to race ahead. 

“We’re trying to find efficiency in the office place, well why can’t we find efficiencies on the farm,” Pryor said in a comparison of the business and agricultural sectors. “You think about farming as a business, these are business people.”

Pryor admitted to some legislative struggles in controlling not only rural broadband development, but also the advancement of technology as a whole. He was quick to point out that the reigning piece of legislation, the Telecommunications Act of 1996, is nearly 20 years old and only mentions the internet twice and could easily be described as outdated. Pryor said there has been a lot of success with this law and hopes to see any potential changes to the legislation wouldn’t hinder the potential for further advancement.

“We have to be very careful that whatever we do, we don’t slow down this industry, we don’t slow down investment, we don’t create uncertainty, and we don’t do things that may be well intentioned, but end up hurting this expansion that we’re seeing,” Pryor said. 

The time for rural broadband expansion may be quickly approaching as recent data demonstrates a sizable expansion in smart phone usage. According to the William J. Hughes Technical Center, 35-percent of America used a smart phone in 2011, and in 2013, that number has leaped to 56-percent. More smart phone users means more occupants of the spectrum used to deliver wireless internet access in remote places, which will inevitably slow down the service. 

Pryor said the combination of improved applications, increased demand, and the opportunity to “level the playing field” between urban and rural America is a driving force behind his desire to push for rural broadband.

“That’s the power of this technology. If you do it the right way, you really open it up for everybody, and it’s a total game changer,” Pryor said. “I know all over the country, (rural residents) want to see more and more of this type of access all over the place.”


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