America’s 60 million rural residents received an early holiday gift this week when the Federal Communications Commission launched an initiative to improve rural communications. In unanimous agreement, the FCC acknowledged problems caused by the existing tangle of regulations, technologies and business plans that have long affected telephone call completion for some rural customers. This week, the FCC took action to ensure better and more accountable service and connectivity.
This action addresses an outstanding issue that has been around for years. The failure of certain calls to go through to rural Americans resulted from new communications technologies interacting with older telephone networks and the failure of regulations to keep pace in the marketplace. Everyone in America, and particularly those in rural areas, depends upon a reliable communications network. For almost 3 decades I represented rural Virginia in Congress, and I know firsthand of the extraordinary importance rural residents attach to reliable and accessible communications.
So, as we look across the communications landscape, we see changes everywhere. More than 40 percent of homes today are wireless-only, and almost that same number receive their phone service through a broadband provider. In Florida and Michigan, to pick two representative states, only about 15% of homes connect to traditional telephone landlines today. Americans in droves have dropped their outdated non-broadband plain old phone service and are quickly moving to high-speed, advanced broadband networks and services, both wired and wireless.
Some consumer advocates have suggested that rural call completion must be addressed prior to implementing policies necessary to the upgrade and modernization of our nation’s telephone networks to all broadband. It’s an important need which the FCC has now addressed in a positive and thoughtful manner. As the FCC moves forward to promote better and more ubiquitous high-speed broadband access nationwide, moving the few remaining users of outdated networks to more functional connections that provide more varied services, it can best accomplish the goal by modernizing its regulations to reflect the technologies of today.
I commend the FCC for this week’s action and encourage the Commission to continue its efforts to ensure that regulations match modern technological capabilities. Promoting certainty is the fastest way to ensure that high-speed all-broadband networks become reality.
Via Sue Marek of Fierce Wireless, people in rural areas are increasingly embracing mobile:
A new study from Current Analysis and commissioned by the Competitive Carriers’ Association found that more than 80 percent of rural subscribers plan to purchase a smartphone in the next three months. The study also found that 34 percent of those who own a smartphone use wireless exclusively for their telecommunications needs.
While coverage in rural areas continues to be a concern, the fact that “cord-cutting” is making its way into rural communities is just more evidence that the transition to next-generation, all-IP networks is well underway.
The US Cattlemen’s Association (USCA) policy on broadband is simple: USCA wants to encourage policymakers to make policy that provides the regulatory certainty that will encourage the substantial private sector investment that will bring more, better, and faster broadband to rural America. Right now, that means encouraging a rapid and smooth transition from the old voice-centric networks to robust IP-based networks and services.
Until regulations are updated to account for the IP transition, certain incumbent telephone network operators will continue to have to support two networks — the slow, legacy copper-based telephone network and the new, faster and more capable IP-based network. The legacy network is not only antiquated but is expensive to maintain and becoming even more expensive as more consumers leave their traditional wireline phone service and switch to IP-based solutions, such as VoIP or LTE mobile phone service.
In his annual address to members, National Grange President Ed Luttrell (National Grange is one of our members) spoke about the importance of expanding broadband access to more of America’s rural communities:
While supporting traditional forms of access and communication, we also stress the need for rural America to see a substantial increase in access to the essential technology of broadband. Rural America achieved a great legislative victory this past year with the allowance of Universal Service Funds to be used for broadband expansion. Now it is our duty to ensure that these funds are properly utilized to bring high-speed internet to every rural household and business. This will help ensure that rural America can compete with its urban counterparts in today’s global economy.
Yesterday, AT&T (which is an IIA member) announced it would be investing heavily to speed up Internet Protocol (or IP) transition and expand mobile and wired broadband to many more Americans. Over at Forbes, Larry Downes applauded the announcement:
At a much-reported analyst conference yesterday, AT&T announced plans to accelerate upgrades to both its wired and mobile networks, pledging an additional $14 billion over the next three years, in addition to several billion already committed.
When completed in 2015, according to the company, the new infrastructure will offer AT&T customers faster and more reliable network facilities, which will operate natively in Internet Protocol (IP). Text, voice, and data will begin life as packets, travel through the network as packets, and arrive on customer devices as packets.
The plan marks a dramatic step forward in a long move by AT&T and other carriers toward a 21st century network infrastructure, signaling the final stage of convergence for old proprietary voice, video, and data networks to the open standards of a single IP network.
Think of it as “Internet Everywhere.”
Downes also addressed concerns from critics of the announcement that AT&T would be leaving rural Americans behind as it retired its old copper network:
[R]ural customers will not be abandoned as part of the plan. Rather, many more will now have access to high-speed wired networks that rely in large part on fiber, with short copper loops serving the last mile.
Instead of spinning off its rural customers, in fact, AT&T will spend billions bringing high-speed broadband to an additional 57 million customers through expansion of its U-verse technology. For residents in areas where U-verse technologies will not be immediately deployed, the company has committed to providing an “economic path” to broadband through wireless services based on high-speed 4G LTE networks.
Over at their “View From the HIll” blog, rural organization the National Grange (which is one of our members) has a good post on mobile broadband, health care, and how more work needs to be done to bring the full power of telemedicine to rural areas:
The possibilities of mHealth are exciting, and the potential that this technology has to improve health and quality of life for rural Americans is vast. But as of now, we just don’t have the necessary ingredients to accomplish these goals. Access to high-speed wireless broadband is still not universal in this country, as rural Americans are well aware. Not only is our nation’s wireless network infrastructure lacking, but spectrum is in high demand. In order to deliver reliable, fast wireless broadband service to people who need it, sufficient spectrum must be made available through any means necessary.
Over at Bloomberg, Ryan Flinn has a nice piece on how a small community in Georgia is experiencing a revolution in health care thanks to broadband:
Until recently, when children in Ware County, Georgia, needed to see a pediatrician or a specialist, getting to the nearest doctor could entail a four- hour drive up Interstate 75 to Atlanta.
Now, there’s another option. As part of a state-wide initiative, the rural county has installed videoconferencing equipment at all 10 of its schools to give its 5,782 students one-on-one access to physicians. Telemedicine sites for adults have also sprung in the area. Instead of taking a full day off from work or school, residents can now regularly see their specialist online.
For more on broadband and health care, see our “10 Benefits of Health IT” infographic.
At the Daily Yonder, Nicole Palya Wood of the National Grange (which is one of our members) writes about the promise of 4G networks in rural areas, and how government must ensure the private investment necessary to connect every corner of America to mobile broadband continues to be encouraged:
This year alone, wireless companies will invest about $26 billion in these networks – far more than the government can or should spend at a time when private companies are vigorously competing for customers in all but the handful of communities targeted by the FCC’s auction program.
Let’s hope Washington can keep its end of the bargain – by making sure that the new fund works as promised and by implementing smart policies that support private investment. The universal service fund alone can’t reach every high-cost rural area across the country.
This is a guest blog post from Jess Peterson, Executive Vice President of the US Cattlemen’s Association (and IIA Broadband Ambassador).
Today marks National Ag Day, a time to recognize the tremendous contributions of the agriculture community. Each year, producers, agricultural associations, corporations, universities, government agencies and countless others across America join together to celebrate all that this community provides today’s growing world.
As a fifth generation rancher and Montana native, I believe celebrating the rich history of farming and ranching is extremely important. But it’s also important to have meaningful conversations about the current industry, and about how we can ensure that future generations will remain prosperous. Access to broadband Internet must be a critical component of these conversations.
As our nation becomes increasingly dependent on broadband technology, wired and wireless Internet access will become exceedingly important. Today, many farmers and ranchers already take advantage of technology; many even rely on it. Ranchers are able to watch live streams of local and regional auction yards and can stay on top of the latest market prices, both locally and across the global marketplace.
As the world population continues to grow, the amount of food and grain produced must grow as well. This means that the agriculture industry must become more efficient. In the 1960’s, one farmer fed about 25 people. Today, the average American farmer feeds 155 people. Now that there is even less farmland available than there was 50 years ago, farmers and ranchers must stay on the leading edge of production and responsible agribusiness. Broadband Internet and advanced technologies help to make that possible.
In January of this year, Secretary Vilsack said that despite budget cuts, increased access to broadband remains a priority, and that more than 300 broadband projects are in the works to expand access to broadband to seven million Americans, including many farmers and ranchers. This is the kind of investment that we need to spur innovation and growth for years to come.
Access to high-speed wireless Internet is as important to America’s agriculture community as it is to every other segment of the economy. As we celebrate another year of successful farming and ranching, I encourage everyone to keep in mind the critical role that Agriculture plays in driving our economy, and to support policies to expand access to high-speed Internet that keep the Ag industry strong.
You can learn more about the United States Cattlemen’s Associationon their website.
Our Honorary Chairman Rick Boucher recently appeared on Fox News to talk about how broadband is today’s light bulb, and how it’s in America’s best interests to ensure everyone has access to the digital economy. Here’s video of the appearance:
With the FCC currently working to overhaul the Universal Service Fund to reflect the digital age, a new paper from Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business examines the effect increased broadband access would have on rural communities. Authored by Jeffrey Macher and John Mayo, “Achieving Rural Universal Service in a Broadband Era: Emergent Evidence from the Evolution of Telephone Demand” finds that increasing the availability of broadband is “not only a tremendous equalizer to rural areas, but also especially beneficial to rural areas by ameliorating or eliminating the economic challenges of geographic isolation and economic specialization.”
To connect rural areas, Macher and Mayo focus on wireless broadband, which when it comes to buildout is relatively cheaper for rural areas than wired connections. But the authors also caution that unless policies are enacted that ensure wireless broadband is continued to grow — specifically, the allocation of much-needed spectrum resources — the buildout to every corner of America will be drastically slowed, if not outright impeded. As they write:
[E]ven with the relative advantages of wireless broadband in rural areas, spectrum constraints have slowed the private sector’s ability to deploy wireless broadband in sparsely populated areas. This lag is especially lamentable in light of the high demand for mobility by rural consumers.
Macher and Mayor state they are encouraged by the recent focus on spectrum by policymakers. They also encourage the approval of the merger of AT&T and T-Mobile, writing:
[T]he accelerated deployment of broadband promised by the merger may not only facilitate the ability of the mobile telephone industry to better satisfy demand in rural areas, but also serve as an important platform and lubricant for future economic growth in these areas.
The Internet Innovation Alliance has a special treat this week for our Featured Member… there are two! This week’s featured members are the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association and the National Grange. Both IIA members participated in the recent “Broadband WORKS for Rural America” advocacy day in Washington, DC on October 4th, 2011. The event included 150 participants from more than 23 states including members of the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association and National Grange. While in Washington, participants attended a total of over 90 meetings with their Members of Congress and staff, during which they delivered the message that access to high-speed Internet is a critical component of job creation and economic development, and is necessary to ensuring a prosperous future for citizens living in remote or hard-to-reach communities.
At a press conference to kick-off the event Jess Peterson, executive vice president of the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association and IIA Ambassador said, “Regardless of location or occupation, the need for reliable, high-speed Internet, both wired and wireless, is something that everyone can agree on. In rural America in particular, there are acres of opportunity for economic growth, but greater access to next-generation technologies is key to capitalizing on these opportunities.” Peterson went on to say, “Right now, Americans need jobs, and we need to make sure that all Americans have the tools to create and sustain them. I believe we successfully delivered that message to policymakers this week.”
Ed Luttrell, President and Master of the National Grange, had this to say about his organizations involvement with the event: “The National Grange has been advocating for affordable access to broadband in rural America for a long time. Never before in our efforts have we seen so many diverse organizations, telecommunications companies, and advocacy groups at the same table with the same commitment and vision. I believe the drumbeat of increased access to broadband in rural America has been heard in our Nation’s capital this week.”
The U.S. Cattlemen’s Association is membership organization dedicated to, and focused on, efforts in Washington, D.C. to further the interests of cattle producers on mandatory country of origin labeling, international trade, market competition, reform of the mandatory beef checkoff, animal health, welfare and identification, private property rights and other issues that affect the United States cattle industry.
The National Grange is a membership organization committed to the development of the potential in families, youth and adults of all ages. Through dynamic programs and experiences that educate, engage and enrich lives, the Grange sees to build stronger communities and states, as well as a stronger nation.
The Internet Innovation Alliance is honored to recognize the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association and the National Grange as this week’s featured member and is privileged to be working with them towards expanded broadband access for all Americans.
Speaking of rural broadband, over at Roll Call, Jess Peterson of the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association and Ed Luttrell from the National Grange have penned an op-ed on how a public-private partnership will be key to connecting all of America. From the piece:
One clear pathway to increase access to high-speed Internet throughout more rural communities is through a joint effort between public and private partnerships. Our main objective is to ask government officials and representatives of private companies to collaborate and bring each sector’s strengths into a partnership that will result in making the deployment of and access to high-speed broadband a reality for all Americans.
This objective is consistent with the goal outlined by President Barack Obama in his 2011 State of the Union address to make high-speed Internet available to 98 percent of the population by 2015.
Our Honorary Chairman Rick Boucher has been an op-ed for the Nashua Telegraph on the importance of expanding mobile broadband access in rural communities. Here’s a taste:
Broadband is the great equalizer. It can help contractors and architects check prices and place orders from a construction site. Professionals in health, education and fields with licensing requirements can stay abreast of requirements through online study. And farmers can quickly connect with restaurants that want the latest information on currently available produce.
Rural communities have long enjoyed a high quality of life. Broadband is a further enhancement that also spurs a wide range of business opportunities.
The Kokomo Tribune’s Daniel Human (via TMC Net) has a report on “Empowering America: Broadband’s Role in Growing the Economy,” a recent panel discussion at Ball State University:
[S]peakers explained how high-speed Internet and WiFi help companies grow, students learn more and doctors keep their patients healthier.
However, obstacles remain, like monthly costs and changes to small communities that are often unwilling to change.
As Human reports, own Bruce Mehlman participated in the discussion:
Panelists Bruce Mehlman, chairman of the Internet Innovation Alliance, and Michael Hicks, an economist at Ball State, said the economy had more to gain by the federal government relaxing restrictions on the companies that provide the Internet, allowing the industry to evolve on its own.
Our Honorary Chairman Rick Boucher has an op-ed for The Gazette in Iowa on the benefits of the AT&T/T-Mobile merger for rural America. Here’s a taste:
[The] 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.
In more Boucher news, the former congressman recently sat down for an interview with WebProNews. Here’s video of the conversation:
On Tuesday, September 13, we held our latest broadband Symposium, “Realizing Deployment of Next Generation Broadband Services and Applications to All of America,” at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.
Kicking off the symposium was featured speaker Jessica Zufolo, Deputy Administrator of the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service. Appointed by President Obama in July of 2009, Zufolo offered the perspective of the Rural Utilities Service (RUS) on the critical importance of mobile broadband and bringing the Internet to rural America.
Zufolo began her speech by highlighting the Rural Utilities Service’s (RUS) perspective on the importance of expanding broadband access:
”As we all know, the availability of fixed and mobile broadband is one of the pillars for economic growth in any community. It’s also one of the most important economic development tools to attract businesses and increase the quality of life for millions of Americans who live in rural areas and tribal lands. Without access to high-speed communications, rural communities will simply not survive in this information economy”
Zufolo then outlined the President’s goals for bringing broadband to more people:
”The Obama administration is focused on the important link between broadband and job growth across rural America. You saw the President’s interest in this topic as he visited rural communities in Iowa and Minnesota throughout the summer. We’re unified in our vision that rural America plays a vital part in this administration’s efforts to transform the economy and create good jobs and encourage investments.”
To illustrate RUS’s efforts to expand access in rural communities, Zufolo offered some impressive numbers:
”The RUS has invested close to 3 million in funding for nearly 300 broadband projects… [We] will bring broadband to 70 million rural residents, 360,000 businesses, 30,000 community anchor institutions, as well as Native American lands in 45 states and one U.S. territory. In total, these projects are expected to create 30,000 jobs in building out new high-speed networks across rural America.”
After touching on efforts to build out a public safety network and smart grid initiatives, Zufolo closed by talking about the Obama administration’s new rural initiative:
”A lot of policymakers in the telecommunications Internet space often forget a very important fact that our President tries to remind us of every day, and that is over 16 percent of Americans live in rural communities. This is a fact that needs to be reminded when we talk about Internet access and broadband deployment, because it’s a crucial fact that drives our economic goals and capital priorities. So to enhance the federal government’s efforts to address the employment needs of rural America, on June 9 President Obama signed an executive order establishing the first White House rural council, which is focused on accelerating the work on increasing access to capital and expanding digital and physical infrastructure in rural areas.”
Our thanks to Jessica Zufolo for participating in the symposium. More information on the Rural Utilities Service and its initiatives can be found on the Department of Agriculture website.
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