The following opinion piece by former U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu, a member of CenturyLink's board of directors, ran in The Hill.
The Obama administration has done much to close the digital divide, which hits rural areas especially hard. That’s why it’s troubling to see the Federal Communications Commission pursuing a proposed regulation that would devastate broadband investment in rural America.
The FCC says its proposal for the business broadband market would foster competition. But by reducing the rates that providers of business broadband services can charge, the proposal would in fact discourage investment, particularly in rural areas. Without these crucial investments, rural America would find it much harder to build up fiber infrastructure and narrow the gap between our more connected cities and less populated regions.
Rural areas, which are the last to benefit from the expansion of high-speed internet, are still quite dependent on this growth, and we should be doing everything we can to support investment that fosters it. Small towns and cities rely on broadband investment to spur economic development and connect small businesses, so the FCC’s rule could have a significant impact on average Americans.
I was gratified to see nine of my former Senate colleagues – eight Democrats and one independent – standing up for rural America in a recent letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. Representing states from Maine to Washington and several Midwestern ones in between, this group urged the commission to use all available data as it moves toward a final rule. As the senators rightly pointed out, their constituents will face challenges in participating in the 21st century global economy without robust investment in business data services.
Last year, in announcing a plan to help bridge the digital divide, President Obama told a school audience in Durant, Okla., “If we don’t get these young people the access to what they need to achieve their potential, then it’s our loss; it’s not just their loss.”
As the president said, we all have a stake in ensuring that our kids have the tools to compete in a wired world. But without muscular investment in broadband, many kids (and adults) will be left behind. It’s imperative that the FCC not push through a regulation that would stifle needed investment in our rural communities.
Mary Landrieu, a former Democratic senator from Louisiana, is a member of the board of directors at CenturyLink, a global communications, hosting, cloud and IT services company.