Over the past few years, we have seen a proliferation of telecommunications services that were once only thought of in the world of science fiction. These services have made our lives significantly easier and more productive.
Broadband has made it possible for a farmer to get the latest agriculture prices in real time and has opened a world of possibilities to a local businessman with a great product to sell. Moreover, access to real broadband also allows us to attract interest, and jobs, from larger companies that help keep local communities viable.
But the technology that makes these tools available for rural consumers is under threat this summer unless we all take action.
Most broadband deployment happens behind the scenes. The same holds true for the rules and regulations that govern rural telecommunications providers The federal government has long been committed to ensuring that rural communities have access to traditional telephone services and, in recent years, the same has held true for broadband access too. Thanks to the Universal Service Fund, it has been financially possible for rural telecommunications companies to provide rural consumers with broadband and all the benefits it provides.
But now the body that oversees our nation’s broadband infrastructure is considering doing the unthinkable and turning its back on the policies that have ensured that small towns in rural America have the same opportunity to receive broadband as those in New York.
Under the name of reform, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has proposed significant changes to the Universal Service Fund that would make it economically unfeasible for companies to provide broadband in many communities.
The stakes are high. Unless the FCC protects the principle of universal service and broadband Internet access for everyone, millions of Americans living in rural areas would very likely be left behind in the ongoing telecommunications revolution.
Small, community-based rural broadband providers have put universal service funds to good use for the customers we serve. We have made basic levels of broadband service available to more than 90 percent of our rural consumers in sparsely populated areas.
Our broadband services have been essential to helping governments deliver needed services to constituents, providing telemedicine services so patients can get medical care when needed, and for helping small businesses—the backbone of job creation in rural America—grow and thrive.
By overreaching in the name of reform, the FCC will put vital services at risk and undermine decades of successful investment in vital broadband infrastructure in rural areas. But the FCC’s proposed new rule would do more than threaten higher costs for rural consumers and small businesses. In many cases, companies would not be able to continue to roll out newer, faster services. In some cases, they would go out of business, leaving customers stranded. Without broadband services, the impact on local business and government would be profound.
Our country has long held the belief that people should not be left behind based on where they live, and that public policy in telecommunications should reflect that standard. But the FCC’s proposals would prevent small, innovative telecommunications companies from applying this service to rural communities across America.
Small telecommunications providers are dedicated to delivering and upgrading the broadband foundation to meet the challenges of the telecommunications revolution. But universal service funding is essential to this task Go to www.SaveRuralBroadband.org to tell Congress that the FCC needs to rethink and reassess in order to meet the real telecommunications needs of rural America.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This column was submitted by Don Santhuff, General Manager, Steelville Telephone Exchange, Inc.