Broadcasters are Keeping Rural Americans from High-Speed Broadband
The following op-ed by CFJ director of public policy Ashley Baker and telecommunications fellow Julian Gehman was published in The Daily Caller.
At least 24 million Americans lack access to broadband internet service and all the benefits it brings, according to a report released last year by the Federal Communications Commission. Of those 24 million, 13 million live in rural areas, resulting in a rural digital divide that demands a solution. A technology known as television white spaces offers a cost-effective answer.
The penalty for this digital divide is high. Rural communities without access to broadband have higher unemployment, less business development, and less access to new technologies such as telehealth services and distance learning where they are needed the most. Children are particularly hard hit, as many can’t do school assignments online and fail to become digitally literate.
The federal government has thrown a lot of money at this problem. Over the last five years, the FCC and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have given over $22 billion to telecommunications carriers to extend broadband coverage, with most of that money going to land lines and fiber-optic cables. Nonetheless, the cost to reach a residence located miles out in the countryside via fiber-optic cable remains prohibitively high and the availability of broadband hasn’t changed much in those five years. Despite the billions of dollars spent, the rural digital divide remains.
But a good solution is at hand. The FCC’s TV white spaces initiative promises to cost-effectively bring broadband to rural areas...