Oh wait... holding up the project.


For years, GPS device makers have poached into spectrum held by LightSquared; when the day of reckoning came, the GPS industry turned to its friends in Washington. With a lot of campaign money to its credit, the GPS industry helped conservative members of Congress denounce this private infrastructure investment and decry the regulations. And when I say decry the regulations, I mean decry the fact that an eleven-year process somehow wasn’t enough.

Outside of the Beltway, we call this Wonderland.

Now the Federal Communications Commission is caving to the pressure, refusing to even continue testing on a system that could bring next-generation wireless and high-speed Internet to a large number of Americans who are accustomed to asking, “Can you hear me now?”

I was (gulp) delighted then when Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform and as fiscally conservative as it gets, showed up to the debate. In a recent column, he states, in part, that “... the Obama administration has failed to put more spectrum for mobile broadband onto the market, which will help prevent dropped calls and improve service. They’ve stalled phone companies from purchasing more spectrum and demanded more regulatory power to handpick the companies that get it. Now, they’re using the regulatory process to stop a start-up company from building a brand new wireless network.”

“They’ve played by the federal government’s rules,” Mr. Norquist writes of LightSquared, echoing my sentiments, “and were granted spectrum under the Bush administration. But now government agencies are working to kill this new network, and the Obama administration is sitting on the sidelines instead of allowing this spectrum to be put to use.”

Set aside blame for the holdup. The reality is that without investing in American broadband infrastructure, we will continue to fall further and further behind in access. This translates directly into lost revenue as businesses in rural parts of the country, like my home state of Maine, will find it harder to compete with companies around the world. This is not simply a problem for rural America. When one part of our economy lags, it drags down the rest of it. Investment in a 21st Century mobile broadband system will inject the entire economy with a much needed boost.

The bottom line is that a company investing some $14 billion to bring broadband to rural areas, create thousands of jobs and increase wireless competition is falling victim to Washington politics. And that means that, per usual, so are those of us in rural America. We have an opportunity to kickstart our economy ~ not just by creating the jobs necessary to deploy the system ~ but by providing small businesses the tools to get the economy’s engine going again.

Let’s not look back and wonder, “How come this didn’t happen?” If a progressive lawmaker can find common ground with Grover Norquist on this project then there is hope it can move forward.

The real question for Congress is whether or not they want their constituents saying, “Can you hear me now?”

State Rep. Russell (D-Portland, ME) was chosen by The Nation magazine as “most valuable state representative” in its 2011 Progressive Honor Roll. You can follow her on Twitter @MissWrite as well as on Facebook.com/DianeMRussell and gplus.to/DianeRussell.