As I drove through Idaho’s Magic Valley this week, following an industry meeting in Montana, I couldn’t help but think about the amount of work (and money) that goes into serving America’s rural areas with advanced telecommunications services.
I visited with dozens of telecom providers this week from all over the northwestern portion of our nation, including representatives from companies in Alaska that provide telecom services–including broadband–to such remote areas where there are no roads and the only way to reach the next village is by small plane or snowmobile.
And while that’s not typical for most rural providers, the challenges faced by OTZ Telephone Cooperative in Kotzebue are an example of what companies must do in rural America to deliver basic dial tone services, not to mention more advanced services like broadband and digital TV that are simply expected by today’s consumer.
The challenges that rural telecom providers face each day to make sure their customers have access to communications services is something the regulators at the Federal Communications Commission need to consider as they look out from their offices in Washington, D.C.
What the FCC Chairman fails to understand is that recent reforms enacted by his agency not only affects rural telecoms and their ability to extend broadband service to new, unserved areas (while also improving current broadband service with faster speeds), but also negatively impacts rural residents that rely on their local broadband providers for Internet access so they can be informed, entertained, and engaged in local, regional, national, and international events that affect them and their families.
By changing the rules, Chairman Genachowski has forced rural providers to delay or totally remove broadband deployment projects that would have otherwise delivered broadband services to thousands of rural residents across the country.
While I don’t believe it was the Chairman’s intention to strip broadband availability from the citizenry of rural America, without some changes to current regulations, that’s exactly what he will be remembered for long after his tenure at the FCC.