BROADBAND COMMUNITIES is the leading source of information on digital and broadband technologies for buildings and communities. Our editorial aims to accelerate the deployment of Fiber-To-The-Home and Fiber-To-The-Premises.
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80 | BROADBAND COMMUNITIES | www.broadbandcommunities.com | MARCH/APRIL 2014 BROADBAND POLICY Why Rural Areas Need Broadband An expert panel educates congressional stafers about rural broadband issues. By Hilda Gay Legg / Legg Strategies and Elizabeth Crocker / Foundation for Rural Service C arissa Swenson lives on a cattle ranch in North Dakota with her husband – a fourth-generation rancher – and their two children. Te closest town has about 300 people. Without broadband, she would have had little opportunity to pursue an independent career. But thanks to the power of broadband, she was able to study online and earn a master's degree in instructional technology. Now she runs her own business, TechTECS, and teaches others to integrate technology into their lives. Swenson is also a director of the Foundation for Rural Service (FRS), a nonproft established by NTCA – Te Rural Broadband Association to educate the public about the benefts of a nationwide telecommunications network. In February, she was a featured speaker at the FRS Broadband 101 event, where she and others educated Congressional stafers about broadband technology, deployment and adoption. For the second year, FRS took on the challenge of getting Capitol Hill up to speed on broadband dynamics. In her speech, Swenson discussed her eforts to help teachers use technology in the classroom and to teach communities how to promote broadband adoption with simple, efective, engaging tools. She commented, "Unfortunately, there is still a signifcant segment of our country that is unaware of the power that broadband could bring to them both as individuals and as members of a community. Efective broadband adoption strategies are the key to helping our future customers understand the tools that are available to them, and broadband deployment is the key to ensuring that young people have opportunities they need to return to rural America to live and thrive. "We rely on the agriculture of rural areas to feed our nation, but we forget that we need to give people in rural areas the same quality access to broadband if we are going to keep those agricultural and rural communities strong. Connectivity comes at a price, but it pays huge dividends for the entire nation, and we need both the public and private sector to become more engaged in the process if we are going to make it work." EDUCATING CONGRESS At Broadband 101, experts addressed the history of broadband service, IP evolution, communications law, the foundation of Universal Service Fund support, the technology of broadband deployment and the challenges and opportunities of broadband technology. Te foundation's eforts have already led to a higher level of understanding in many congressional ofces. Industry expert Leo Staurulakis of John Staurulakis Inc. moderated the event. In addition to Swenson, the panel included former Sen. Byron Dorgan (D–N.D.); Hilda Gay Legg, former Rural Utilities Service (RUS) administrator; and Larry Tompson, CEO of Vantage Point Solutions. Sen. Dorgan kicked of the remarks by giving a primer on the history of the telecom industry and Universal Service and explained how the rules are changing in the new world of IP evolution. He reminded listeners that the power of the network lies in the number of people who are a part of it. If people cannot communicate easily with relatives, friends, colleagues and businesses in rural areas, he pointed out, the entire network sufers. He argued for policies that advance the deployment of broadband networks in rural America and encouraged lawmakers to provide more regulatory certainty so that rural telecoms can invest in infrastructure for the future. Legg stressed the importance of investment and the crucial role that the U.S. Department of Agriculture and RUS have played in ensuring broadband deployment to underserved areas. She discussed the Agricultural Act of 2014 (the "Farm Bill"), which will provide about $750 million in telecommunications- related loan and grant funds for investment in rural communities in fscal 2014, and emphasized the critical role of broadband deployment in the growth of small, rural businesses. Larry Tompson, an engineer who works with hundreds of rural telecommunications companies, educated Hill stafers about the diferences among broadband technologies. "Wireless needs wires," he said, explaining the implications of the increased use of personal devices and the never-ending demand for more bandwidth. Tompson reiterated that customers constantly demand more from providers but FCC policies have discouraged companies from moving forward with long-term investments that would allow for growth. Te foundation will follow up this event in August with a tour for congressional stafers to rural communities, where they can visit central ofces and fber-to-the-home construction sites for a "boots on the ground" perspective on the issues discussed during Broadband 101. v Hilda Gay Legg is a consultant in rural economic development, specializing in telecommunications policies and funding. She can be reached at email@example.com. Elizabeth Crocker is the executive director of FRS. For more information, visit www.frs.org. BBC_Mar14.indd 80 3/14/14 7:22 PM