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16 | BROADBAND COMMUNITIES | www.broadbandcommunities.com | MARCH/APRIL 2017 RURAL BROADBAND State Legislators And the Gigabit Desert How can state legislators help spread the gigabit wealth to more constituents? That's not a rhetorical question – this legislator is looking for new ideas. By Tom Sloan / Kansas State Legislature N ew investments in smart cities and smart neighborhoods create tremendous benefits by connecting energy and gigabit telecommunications technologies. However, such investments result in oases of tremendous value and interactions surrounded by deserts in which small-town, rural and low-income residents experience a relative dearth of opportunities for economic, educational, health care and personal growth. at's because companies invest in energy and telecommunications capabilities where they are most likely to quickly recover their research and deployment investments. As a public policymaker, I have at least four concerns: • Technologies that enhance human capabilities and quality of life should be researched and deployed. • e equipment and software should work as advertised, rather than becoming an investment that must be repeated at the expense of consumers and investors. • e deployment of these technologies should be expanded on a reasonable schedule to people outside the oases. • e deployment to the last customer should occur before the deployment of the next generation of technology and customer capability to the oases. As telecommunications companies strive to become more flexible and nimble in meeting customer expectations for services beyond voice and data, competition among providers grows. But options for new, advanced services are more likely to occur within smart-city or smart neighborhood projects than in the rural and low- income deserts. As a result, the gap between the oases of affluent, urban customers and the deserts surrounding them may grow exponentially. us, as a policymaker, I face the issue of how to help telecommunications providers become more nimble and responsive to customer expectations and capabilities while protecting those unable to participate because of their situations or the business decisions of their providers. In the words of William Gibson, "e future is already here – it's just not very evenly distributed." My task as a policymaker is to reduce the lag between first and last beneficiaries of technological changes. CAN SMALL PROVIDERS STEP UP? Will community and independent broadband providers be able to respond to rising customer expectations and technological capabilities as quickly as investor-owned providers? Opportunities exist for communities to seek innovative partnerships with independent broadband providers that may use alternative broadband delivery echnologies or have different business models that require lower rates of return than do the large providers. As community and independent broadband