Broadband Delivers Broad Rural Opportunities

By former Congressman Rick Boucher of Abingdon, Virginia. Rick is the Chairman of the Internet Innovation Alliance. He served for 28 years in the United States House of Representatives representing Virginia’s Ninth Congressional District. During his Congressional tenure he served on the House Energy and Commerce and Judiciary Committees and chaired the subcommittees on Communications, Technology and the Internet.

For far too long, many in rural America have had to wait for the latest technologies to come to them. Many in rural communities and smaller towns across the nation are still waiting for access to next generation wireless broadband; meanwhile, their neighbors in larger suburban or urban areas have a huge competitive advantage. This ever-widening divide between the broadband “haves” and the “have nots” is playing out across Oregon, and it’s hurting rural residents and the economy.

On July 22, I had the opportunity to speak about this very topic to a group at the Oregon Economic Development Association’s Summer Conference. Lack of access to next generation mobile broadband means a lack of access to important resources and a wide array of possibilities. For rural communities in Oregon this means that corresponding opportunities are also unavailable. Next generation wireless broadband brings the power to enhance and improve lives and economic opportunity, by providing access to online job training and professional development opportunities as well as educational enrichment and distance learning. Next generation mobile broadband technology also has the potential to provide rural residents with access to health care and related resources. Rural schools can better prepare our children to compete in the digital age, farmers and ranchers can take advantage of next generation high-tech wireless devices and applications designed to help them increase yields, and aspiring entrepreneurs can start online businesses and connect with markets around the country or across the world.

But these benefits are only the beginning. Access to the next generation of mobile broadband technology will be the critical bridge that links rural Oregon communities to the economic mainstream. Broadband access galvanizes rural economies because it allows any business to be located anywhere. Expanded access to this lightning-fast service means that businesses can relocate to rural communities and enjoy the benefits of a rural lifestyle and lower cost of living while still conducting operations with the same speed and efficiency as in larger cities. This access also means that local and small businesses can reach new customers and compete in the online marketplace alongside larger businesses.

However, these opportunities aren’t going to transform Oregon’s rural communities if the next generation of wireless broadband continues to be unavailable to them. The recently-proposed combination of AT&T and T-Mobile will prove to be a game-changer for rural communities across the country. As part of that merger, AT&T has committed to bringing access to next generation wireless broadband to over 97 percent of Americans, including many rural Americans, using private dollars and NOT taxpayer funds.

States with significant rural populations stand to gain much from the broadband expansion that will be achieved as a result of this merger; in Oregon alone, the merger will bring high-speed broadband access to an additional 500,000 residents. Indirect benefits are as limitless as the possibilities that mobile broadband delivers.

Next generation wireless broadband has the potential to bring immediate and far-reaching benefits to people, schools, businesses, and communities. Rural Oregonians have waited long enough for the professional, economic, and educational opportunities that access to this technology can deliver

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    I concur. I think broadband internet access should be a high priority for infrastructure development. Certainly more so than the Columbia River Crossing Project.

    But it’s not just a rural issue. While I’m not a techie, nor have I kept up with the latest broadband developments in Portland, I was concern in 2010 that access to broadband services was neither optimal nor equitable in Portland. (see here).

    I particularly think all Oregon high school students, urban and rural, should have their own laptop computer with broadband access, both provided/paid for by their local school districts

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    Wow, I guess corporate mega-mergers are great. This post shouldn't be on BlueOregon.

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    This is about the third opinion piece I've read extolling the virtues of the AT&T/T-Mobile merger. Quite honestly I do not get it. In many parts of rural Oregon these are the two least dependable carriers.

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    I had the opportunity to hear Boucher speak last week in Bend - he was the keynote speaker for the Oregon Economic Development Association's summer conference. Several people asked about the merger and Boucher said that T-Mobile is losing money and has stopped investing in future infrastructure, which leaves two options: the company dies or merges with another company.

    T-Mobile just doesn't have the infrastructure in place to handle new technology upgrades and demands by customers. Boucher said T-Mobile customers would lose out if the merger didn't take place. His position is that this isn't about a corporate take-over and it has very few, if any, anti-trust issues.

    Of course, you're free to disagree with Boucher's assessment as I'm just relaying the message.

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