By Rick Boucher
September 02, 2011
Town meetings in my most rural counties centered on talk of television – or the lack thereof – when I arrived in Congress in 1983. For some, mountains blocked television reception in the valleys below. For others, only one local station was available. With the Satellite Home Viewer Act, we worked through these challenges and brought the benefits of video connectivity to thousands of Americans, improving their lives.
Today, millions of Americans are taking advantage of the benefits of broadband, from real-time news to on-demand education and information to better health care options. The Internet advances daily life and transforms the way we’re able to interact with our world. But too many Americans have yet to experience this phenomenon, to take advantage of the opportunities it provides.
This promise of expansive rural opportunity leads me to support AT&T’s proposed merger with T-Mobile. The companies combining their strengths will bring 4G LTE wireless broadband access, with data speeds rivaling today’s fastest wired connections, to more than 97 percent of Americans. President Obama has set a goal for 98 percent of the population to have broadband access within five years; the combination of AT&T and T-Mobile very nearly achieves the President’s goal and does so with private capital, not taxpayer funds.
For a quarter-century, my efforts focused on keeping hard-to-reach rural communities up-to-speed with modern communications capabilities. My dedication today to seeing high-speed Internet services made available to rural populations is strengthened from witnessing first-hand the successes – with local focus and commitment – that can be achieved.
High-speed Internet access is a game changer for individuals, communities, states and our nation as a whole. Through economic development grants in deploying Internet backbones, our efforts helped connect one community to another. We pioneered the local use of fiber optics-based telemedicine and distance learning. The small Southwest Virginia town of Claudeville, for example, became the first in the nation to use television white spaces for wireless broadband delivery. And a new fiber optic backbone connected the rural town of Lebanon, Virginia to larger communities, which allowed Northrop Grumman and software developer CGI to locate large data and software engineering centers in the town, creating an estimated 700 jobs averaging $60,000 per position.
The Internet is a bridge that ties rural America to our nation's and our world’s economic mainstream; it enables virtually any business to be conducted from any location. A physical urban proximity to customers and suppliers is no longer necessary, as the virtual proximity of high-speed connectivity meets the same communications need. Operations can be conducted just as efficiently from remote regions as they can in or near cities. Then, businesses and their employees can capitalize on the lower costs and high quality of life rural communities offer.
Thousands of the smallest communities outside of urban areas either lack broadband service or have just one option that can be pricey for a relatively low connection speed, inadequate for modern business demands. With many of the same geographical and population density challenges that were encountered with the advent of television, Rural America is home to many of the broadband have-nots. The joining of AT&T's and T-Mobile’s wireless spectrum will largely fill the gap and bring robust Internet connectivity to rural localities where wired infrastructure is cost prohibitive.
Thanks to 28 years representing a rural Congressional district, I view through a rural lens the opportunities information technologies can bring to our nation. From a front row seat, I witnessed the transformative quality of broadband for rural America, and I am excited about the game changing opportunities that are now within our reach: I want every citizen to be part of the Broadband Revolution.
About: Rick Boucher was a member of the US House of Representatives. He chaired the Subcommittee on Communications and the Internet and cofounded the Congressional Internet Caucus. He's currently the Honorary Chairman of the Internet Innovation Alliance and the head of the Government Strategies Practice in Washington, DC.
Received August 17, 2011 - Published September 02, 2011
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