Mapping Broadband in Western North Carolina

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The Rural Broadband Crisis:
How Bad Is It? How Do We Solve It?

End Game:  The New Oil, Customer Data

By freeing themselves from “carrier of last resort” and universal service obligations, the incumbents would be free to cherry-pick neighborhoods and communities for network upgrades. By abandoning the PSTN for unregulated wireless networks, the incumbents would be free of non-discrimination and consumer-privacy rules.

Using the First and Fifth Amendments as shields against regulators, the cable and telco cartels would be free to analyze network content and harvest a “mother lode” of consumer data. “There's a $260 billion advertising industry out there just trying to get at this data,” a Sprint/Nextel executive told an industry conference in October. “Data is the new oil,” says Verizon executive Bill Diggins.

With no “hands-off” constraints, the broadband cartels would control gushers of consumer data that rival, if not surpass, the consumer data controlled by Google and Facebook.

What Can Citizens Do?

If recent history is any guide, AT&T, Verizon and the cable companies will have their wishes granted by compliant regulators. But crisis begets opportunity. The incumbent telephone and cable providers' cards are on the table. The abandonment of the Public Switched Telephone Network and 99 years of public-interest telecom policy is a big deal. It's time for Congress and the FCC to implement real broadband policy reform on the scale of the 1936 Rural Electrification Act.

Here's a checklist of what that reform might look like:

  • Reform the Connect America Fund so that its $4.5 billion dollars a year is used to encourage local self-help broadband networks.
  • Congress should pass a Rural Broadband Act similar to the 1936 Rural Electrification Act to help local communities build broadband networks. The RBA should include a provision that nullifies state laws restricting municipal broadband networks.
  • The FCC should expedite the use of the TV “white spaces” and greatly expand additional “unlicensed spectrum” in the lower, broadcast frequencies for the delivery of high-capacity broadband in rural and other underserved communities.
  • Petition President Obama to appoint a new chairman of the Federal Communications Commission who will put the interests of citizens and consumers ahead of Wall Street and incumbent carriers.

When for-profit electric utilities bypassed rural America, the 1936 Rural Electrification Act enabled rural communities to solve the problem themselves. With the reforms outlined above, rural America can solve the broadband problem and provide an Open Internet alternative to the incumbent carriers.

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Additional Reading

Rural broadband access still lags cities,” Daily Yonder, June 9, 2013.

"How ‘white spaces’ could change the world," Tech Central, May 19, 2013.

"Utilities want piece of FCC's $4.5 billion rural broadband push." Greentech Media, May 29, 2013.

California gets first commercial 'white space' high-speed Internet,” C-Net, April 22, 20 13.

Obama's new FCC pick could determine the future of the Internet,” by David Corn, Mother Jones, March 26, 2013.

Broadband 101: Guide to the Basics of Broadband Terminology,” Institute for Local Self-Reliance, March 2013.

FCC to probe rural phone problems,” The Hill, Feb. 7, 2013.

Moving from broadband scarcity to broadband abundance,” Christopher Mitchell, Seattle Times, March 11, 2013.

Expand wireless Wi-Fi access to public airwaves,” Sacramento Bee editorial, Feb. 16, 2013.

The Broadband Factor: How connectivity expands economic and community development” by Kristin Peterson, Huffington Post, February 4, 2013.

The broadband-deprived study at McDonald's” by Anton Troianovski, Wall Street Journal, Jan. 30, 2013.

NC at the bottom of the broadband barrel” by Christopher Mitchell and Todd O'Boyle, Raleigh News & Observer, Jan. 28, 2013.

How to get high-speed Internet to all Americans” by Susan Crawford, New York Times, Jan. 24, 2013.

Co-ops make rural broadband possible,” Electric Co-op Today, Dec. 17, 2012.

Book talk by by Susan Crawford, author of “Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age,” at Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet & Society, Dec. 12, 2012.

Break Up the Telecom Cartels,” New York Times op-ed by David Cay Johnston, Nov. 27, 2012.

Many rural AT&T customers still lack high-speed Internet access despite merger promise,” by Gerry Smith, Huffington Post, Nov. 12, 2012.

Like paying for a car that's sittin' on blocks,” radio story on rural broadband in Appalachia from community radio WMMT, Whitesburg, KY, Nov. 8, 2012.

Broadband for Rural America: Economic Impacts & Economic Opportunities
Hudson Institute policy study by Hanns Kuttner, October 2012.

Rural broadband in serious trouble,” DSL Reports, Oct. 16, 2012.

C-SPAN panel on “Rural Telecommunications” featuring Hanns Kuttner, Oct. 15, 2012.

FCC Report: Thousands in WNC lack broadband access,” MAIN, Sept. 12, 2012.

White space broadband as a white knight for rural America,” GigaOM, July 15, 2012.

Rural broadband via nonprofit networks,” by Wally Bowen, Raleigh News & Observer, Feb. 6, 2012.

Score! for two rural broadband teams,” by Craig Settles, The Daily Yonder, Jan. 26, 2012.

National Broadband Plan

Broadband access