In remote areas, broadband is connecting rural students with online courses, expanding access to the world’s best hospitals and turning once-waning main streets into vibrant hubs of opportunity. Studies show that as rural communities adopt and use broadband services, incomes go up and unemployment falls. Simply put: Connectivity can arm 60 million rural Americans with unprecedented economic opportunity.
Ensuring access to an open, thriving online ecosystem through modern and even-handed internet rules is critical for every American, but perhaps most so for those in rural areas which rely on the internet to connect them to a rapidly evolving global economy. Broadband providers, the folks who bring the internet to your neighborhood, support permanent, modern protections that ensure consumers and innovators alike don’t have to worry about blocked websites or throttled service.
But guaranteeing these open internet protections shouldn’t mean rolling back decades of progress. Two years ago, the FCC slammed the door shut on two decades of innovation, shoehorning 100 pages of antiquated utility rules meant for the dawn of telephones onto internet service providers. The result created significant uncertainty, working against the continued expansion of broadband infrastructure and investment into communities that need it most.
Now, Chairman Ajit Pai of the Federal Communication Commission is seeking a modern fix—working to ensure permanent, modern open internet protections for all Americans, while closing the “digital divide” in unserved rural areas. Achieving both goals in tandem is essential to making sure we are a truly connected nation, in which all of us can reap the benefits of the modern digital economy — no matter where we live.
Rural areas need more investment, not less. And modern open internet rules will encourage this needed progress. Broadband providers are working hard to expand access and infrastructure, investing more than $70 billion in U.S. networks annually. As a result, over the past 10 years broadband in rural homes has risen 117%.
But the work can’t stop there. Two-thirds of all rural jobs are created by small businesses that take full advantage of ecommerce to expand, grow and hire. Similarly, more than five million rural students will be pursuing online degrees by 2020. Healthcare, too, is at stake. Over the same timeline there could be 45,000 fewer rural doctors, making the need for connectivity even more critical. For improved services, education and economic opportunity, it is clear that rural Americans will rely heavily on broadband to build opportunity.
Rural America is fertile ground for innovation. But we need modern and fair open internet standards to ensure everyone has access to modern, open high-speed broadband. As the rest of the country and world take advantage of a rapidly evolving digital economy, it’s now Washington’s turn to ensure that those living in rural communities don’t get left behind.