Last week, Congress held a hearing to evaluate proposals and recent actions of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and determine how the agency can better serve the public. Both Republican and Democratic members asked all five FCC commissioners questions regarding their work over the past year on a range of issues that impact consumers, from spectrum to broadband deployment. One particular issue that surfaced repeatedly during the hearing was how the FCC can improve its efforts to expand these essential services and resources to rural areas.
Millions of Americans living in rural areas and communities still lack high-speed broadband. Access to higher quality, faster Internet enhances people’s lives by providing more opportunities in education, healthcare, and professional development. It brings communities together and levels the playing field between rural areas, smaller towns and larger urban centers. But more must be done, and the National Grange is a strong advocate for Federal policies that help deliver the online opportunities that those rural areas deserve.
The FCC should learn from successful actions of the past and exercise regulatory caution moving forward. Over twenty years ago, the government embraced a light-touch regulatory approach that enabled the Internet to flourish into the essential modern technology and engine of economic growth and opportunity that it continues to be today. Now the FCC wants to impose outdated regulations onto broadband networks. This approach will inhibit the capital investment necessary for deploying broadband to underserved areas and rural communities that need access to broadband the most.
Consumers in rural America are better served by policies that encourage innovation and private investment so that the marketplace and competitors can provide a variety of choices and innovate, build, and expand to meet consumer demand. It is the sustained investment in expanding broadband networks that enables companies to deliver economic opportunities to rural communities and ensure no one is left behind.
The Grange wants to work cooperatively with government and other stakeholders to ensure regulations have purpose and achieve the goal of meeting the needs of consumers, businesses, and entrepreneurs in rural areas. A heavier regulatory hand that saddles the Internet with regulation of the old Bell system threatens to undermine the very innovation and investment that produces benefits. A light-touch policy is a smart approach to getting all of America – particularly rural communities – connected once and for all.