For the US to fully realize the economic and cultural benefits of broadband, it must reach everyone and be built to last
The best broadband, it's generally agreed, is an affordable connection that supports the needs of consumers and businesses for many years into the future. It's not unreasonable to achieve because fiber-optic cable, the industry's gold standard, has near limitless capabilities. Once buried in the ground, it can be upgraded through electronics rather than digging up the cable. Conversely, it's a waste of time and money to rebuild networks over and over because they were based on the needs of the past, not the future, said Shirley Bloomfield, chief executive officer of NTCA - The Rural Broadband Association, which represents about 850 community-based telecommunications companies. Broadband must be able to simultaneously support a family's need for connecting to the office, participating in virtual classrooms, live chats with a doctor or friend group. The internet has become the linchpin for rural businesses as well. Farmers need it to buy equipment and follow crop prices. Factories need it to connect with suppliers and customers. Rural health centers, tourism businesses, shops on Main Street, all need a robust, reliable connection.
Small, for-profit broadband businesses have sometimes been the unsung heroes in rural areas where the bigger companies haven't made many improvements. Extending internet service has been a good fit for some electric cooperatives because they have essential infrastructure such as cable and poles, service crews and customer support. "I think they should be encouraged," said Jonathan Sallet, a senior fellow at the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society, and a former general counsel for the Federal Communications Commission. "The rural electric cooperatives and rural telephone companies have been more willing to put in modern networks than some of the larger companies," he said.
For the U.S. to fully realize the economic and cultural benefits of broadband, it must reach everyone and be built to last