Government advocates tout not-so-inspirational tales of broadband need
BRIDGING THE DIVIDE: A U.S. senator and FCC commissioner used New River Gorge Bridge, part of a tour of the state last week, as a metaphor for linking the have and have-nots in regard to broadband access. A U.S. senator from West Virginia and an FCC commissioner released an op-ed Tuesday touting the need to bridge the digital divide following a roundtable discussion on rural broadband access last week. But the examples they used in the piece probably won t inspire taxpayers to voluntarily open up their wallets.
U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-West Virginia, chairwoman of the newly formed Senate Broadband Caucus, and FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai penned the op-ed in the Beckley Register-Herald1 discussing the issue.
Pai joined Capito on a tour of West Virginia last week in which they participated in a broadband roundtable with small businesses and local tourism groups.
CAPITO: The chairwoman of the Senate Broadband Caucus is looking for solutions to the rural broadband divide across the country.
We listened to the stories of business owners who have struggled to grow because of inadequate high-speed internet access, they wrote. We learned about the tourism industry losing repeat customers due to lack of broadband. And we heard about the challenge of attracting millennials to live, work, and visit rural areas with limited connectivity.
The pair cited one local business known for its world-class whitewater rafting, rock climbing, and guided adventures that talked about the challenges of connecting its 1,500-acre property with broadband due to the astronomical cost. Despite the world-class outdoor sporting activities offered there, the business faces a challenge because it can t market that its cabins have Wi-Fi, the pair wrote in the op-ed. David Williams, president of the Taxpayer Protection Alliance, told Watchdog.org it s not the responsibility of taxpayers to subsidize bad business decisions.
At some point businesses (and people) have to be responsible for their own actions and stop blaming the government, he said. It seems like the priority of the whitewater rafting company should be finding a location with good access to the river, not Wi-Fi or broadband.
Pai and Capito also reference a software developer who recently moved to the state who planned to work from home. But, oops, the man purchased a house in a town where he can t access high-speed internet.
He s had to scramble to adjust weekly trips to a nearby town, using a phone as a Wi-Fi hotspot, and asking coworkers in California and London to upload files for him, the duo wrote. To rectify these situations, the Senate Broadband Caucus and FCC are seeking solutions and some of those would involve taxpayers footing the bill.
We discussed several solutions during last week s roundtable, including reducing barriers to investing in infrastructure like fiber, streamlining regulations for wireless providers, encouraging public-private partnerships to improve technology, and ensuring accountability regarding taxpayer dollars intended for broadband development. All of this would promote greater access and competition, Pai and Capito wrote.
Pai is one of three members of the Federal Communications Commission (with two right-leaning commissioners dissenting) who voted for a $2.25 billion annual expansion of the Lifeline program to include subsidies for low-income residents to get high-speed home internet or a data plan for their cell phones.
The FCC s 2016 Broadband Progress Report4 ranked West Virginia 48th in the nation for broadband availability. About 30 percent of the state s residents can t access broadband, a number that rises to 48 percent in rural areas.
Those percentages would likely be much lower had the FCC not increased the definition of broadband last year from a download speed of 10 megabits per second to 25 mbps.
- ^ penned the op-ed in the Beckley Register-Herald (www.register-herald.com)
- ^ RELATED: Senators urge FCC to expand mobile broadband for farmers (watchdog.org)
- ^ RELATED: FCC s Lifeline expansion: Rural internet solution or taxpayer boondoggle? (watchdog.org)
- ^ The FCC s 2016 Broadband Progress Report (www.fcc.gov)