In response to the opinion piece “If Phone Giants Merge: A Rural Take” by Parul Desai, IIA Honorary Chairman Rick Boucher penned the article below (also found here on Daily Yonder), which provides a different “rural take” on AT&T’s proposed purchase of T-Mobile.
“We commend the commission for the goals and the vision in this plan to bring affordable, high-speed Internet access to all Americans.”
— Consumers Union praising the FCC’s National Broadband Plan, March 16, 2010
For rural communities, broadband Internet service means additional jobs and the ability to integrate more fully into our nation’s economic mainstream. In rural areas, for example, employment jumps by 0.2 to 0.3 percent for every percentage point increase in broadband penetration, according to a study from The Brookings Institution.
During my 25 years in Congress, I worked to advance Rural America, with improved Internet access as a leading strategy. My reason was simple: expanded broadband access not only helps create employment opportunities, it also opens up access to education, healthcare, government services and information.
The power of broadband, for instance, provides new tools to farmers and ranchers to grow their enterprises and enables entrepreneurs to locate their businesses locally. For eight more ways that high-speed Internet transforms rural areas, check out an Internet Innovation Alliance report, titled “10 ways broadband helps rural communities.”
Accordingly, it is disappointing that my friends at Consumers Union would introduce a skewed, misleading argument about rural broadband service as part of their criticism of AT&T’s proposed purchase of T-Mobile.
As part of the merger, AT&T has pledged to deploy 4G LTE broadband — the fourth generation of wireless network technology with greater capacity and faster speeds — to more than 97 percent of Americans. This groundbreaking achievement should cheer progressives and conservatives alike: it helps President Obama realize a valued goal of universal broadband at no cost to taxpayers.
But missing the forest for the trees, the Consumers Union is attempting to move the goal post. Instead of connecting Americans, they say our aim should be to deploy high-speed Internet to all of our country’s land area — regardless of whether anyone actually lives there.
The argument is nonsensical. Deploy service in the Mojave Desert? Or the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park in Alaska? Or Denali or Death Valley? Any such service would be exorbitantly expensive to deploy and maintain, and there would be minimal consumer use (although all consumers would ultimately have to foot the bill to maintain the service).
Beyond this argument is an even more crucial issue for policymakers. Right now, wireless networks in far too many small towns cannot handle the demands of today’s users. The arrival of 4G LTE broadband service in these areas means mobile consumers will finally have a new choice for their Internet service. No longer will they be relegated to choosing only from the services of wired broadband providers.
As history goes to show, the arrival of a new competitor offering a better product or service will quickly spur the rest of the market to action. In this case, it will encourage other wireless carriers to deploy new technology and implement alternative pricing plans, which makes the consumer the winner.
Broadband allows businesses to take advantage of the lower costs and excellent quality of life that rural communities offer. The Washington State Department of Information Services reports that the Internet helps farms and food processors reduce their costs and increase their competitiveness. And the Benton Foundation finds that telehealth made possible by broadband access can save an estimated $670 per household per year in healthcare costs — not to mention the expanded emergency access to 911.
The benefits of high-speed mobile Internet access are wide-ranging, great and many. For business and policymakers alike, the goal should be to deploy this service as quickly as possible, to as many Americans as possible. The only ones who’ll miss cell towers in the middle of Death Valley are a few iguanas.