AP NEWS

Use Fund For Broadband

May 14, 2019

Just about every plan for a major national infrastructure program includes making broadband internet access available in rural areas.

That is a sound priority. High-speed internet is as fundamental to economic development today as electricity, trains and interstate highways were in earlier eras.

But the federal record for developing rural broadband is poor. Any new infrastructure plan should include a new protocol for broadband development to ensure that the money allocated for that purpose is not wasted.

As reported by The Caucus, which covers state government, University of Virginia broadband expert Christopher Ali has examined broadband from Virginia to Manitoba and has found government policies to be ineffective.

In the United States, every telephone customer pays fees into a federal Universal Service Fund, which pays about $2 billion a year in grants to companies to help develop telecommunications services in poor and rural areas.

But, Ali said, the rules allow the companies to “build to the technology” — that is, to the highest internet speeds that companies can achieve through existing copper wires, rather than to the true broadband speeds that can be achieved only through fiber optic transmission lines.

“Basically,” he said, “we’re subsidizing the deployment of 1990s technology.”

Any future broadband development should be to achieve the state-of-the-art standard, rather than to subsidize what already exists.