Rural America will fall further behind without all-fiber broadband infrastructure investment

Rural America will fall further behind without all-fiber broadband infrastructure investment
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We traditionally think of infrastructure as the roads and bridges that connect our cities and people with one another. While these are critical components of any nation’s infrastructure, in our increasingly digital world, it is also ultra-fast broadband access through all-fiber connectivity that will drive innovation, productivity and our economy. This is one critical issue that should unite our divided Congress: Increasing fiber broadband access to rural America.

Take the real-life story of Corina Sahlin, a small business owner in Marblemount, Washington, a town with barely 200 residents. Sahlin’s business teaches self-reliant, sustainable living. She has thousands of social media followers, but has a difficult time staying connected with them because of slow broadband speeds at home. Instead, she must travel 30 minutes to her nearest library to get the high-capacity broadband connection she needs to upload videos and operate her business.

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Unfortunately, this is not a unique story. According to the latest data from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), roughly 19 million Americans lack access to high-speed broadband — and most of them live in rural areas. This leaves them struggling to stay connected and unable to take part in the opportunities available to urban residents. People living in rural communities deserve the same access to fast, reliable all-fiber networks as citizens living in urban areas. Without broadband access, rural Americans are at an unfair disadvantage in accessing economic, educational, and healthcare resources.

That is why deploying more all-fiber networks and providing benefits to families, communities, and businesses all over the country is the best way to end the rural-urban digital divide. All-fiber connectivity is the platform for smart, connected communities and in supporting the many connected devices and applications that we use.

The Internet of Things is no longer a novelty; connecting hundreds of millions of sensors to the Internet is increasingly vital everywhere from homes and offices to manufacturing and precision agriculture. Given the sheer number of devices running on our networks — and the activities we use them for — having all-fiber connectivity will only grow in importance because it is the best-in-class technology that allows all of those devices to work in ways that our citizens and our industries want, need and expect.

While all-fiber networks pay for themselves in terms of the educational and economic opportunities they can bring to a community, upfront deployment costs can be high, which can make the private sector hesitant to invest in rural areas with small populations. That’s where the government can provide incentives to private companies so they can deploy all-fiber networks in rural communities.  Or, local governments may even want to invest directly in all-fiber networks to propel community growth.

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Thankfully, many of our representatives in Congress, as well as policymakers at all levels, recognize the need for more rural fiber and generally support greater infrastructure investment. Republican and Democratic members of the bipartisan Senate Broadband Caucus have acknowledged the importance of investing in broadband infrastructure. Senator Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerJuan Williams: Don't rule out impeaching Trump The 25 Republicans who defied Trump on emergency declaration Overnight Defense: Senate rejects border emergency in rebuke to Trump | Acting Pentagon chief grilled on wall funding | Warren confronts chief over war fund budget MORE (R-Miss.) said that, “closing the digital divide by expanding high-speed broadband — fiber and wireless — is critical,” while Senator Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharHarris's stepkids call her 'Momala' Sanders joins striking workers at UCLA in first 2020 California visit Lawmakers urge tech to root out extremism after New Zealand MORE (D-Minn.) has expressed support for fiber broadband deployment.

So while local, state, and federal governments have taken action to expand fiber broadband deployment, we should continue to do more to invest in our connected future and implement policies that make the process for deploying all-fiber networks more convenient and more efficient, and therefore less expensive. Any infrastructure package this year should promote all-fiber access, particularly to rural America.

Infrastructure means much more than building roads; it also means building the physical infrastructure to support our digital roads — all-fiber networks directly connecting homes, schools, libraries, and businesses.

All Americans deserve access to ultra-fast broadband service that only all-fiber networks can provide. Expanding all-fiber networks, especially to rural Americans, will require collaboration not only between Democrats and Republicans, but also between government and the private sector.

Lisa R. Youngers is President and CEO of the Fiber Broadband Association. She has more than 20 years of experience in telecommunications, most recently as CEO of Nextlink Wireless. Follow her on Twitter @youngerslisa.