Boucher: Bridging rural America to the economic mainstream

From Richmond Times Dispatch OP-ED

For rural Americabroadband is the bridge to our nation’s economic mainstream, but of today’s 20 percent of the national population that lacks broadband access, the vast majority live in rural areas. Bringing high-speed Internet access to rural-broadband have-nots is today’s greatest telecommunications policy challenge.

Now a single means of meeting that challenge is at hand. AT&T has pledged that its merger with T-Mobilewill result in broadband reaching more than 97 percent of the population within six years, connecting 55 million Americans who lack the service today. President Obama has set a national goal of universal broadband deployment, defined as reaching 98 percent of our population, within five years. Now one company alone, with approval of the pending merger, will almost enable that goal to be met, leaving a far smaller gap to be filled with government grants and loans and other private investment.

It’s the promise of far broader rural economic opportunity achieved with private investment that leads me to support the proposed merger of AT&T and T-Mobile. With the merger, wireless broadband with 4G LTE service will arrive in our rural regions, and it will arrive at speeds rivaling today’s fastest wired connections.

The achievement of bringing broadband service to communities that are the hardest to reach — whether in the mountains of Southwest Virginia or other remote areas of our country — will meet our greatest telecommunications challenge and bring new economic opportunity to millions of rural residents.

Rick Boucher, honorary chairman of the Internet Innovation Alliance, represented Virginia’s 9th District in the U.S. House of Representatives for 28 years. Contact him at rick@internetinnovation.org.
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