Opinion

Commonsense Measures to Connect Rural America

As a local internet service provider based in Ohio, we at Agile Networks have spent years trying to find ways to bring affordable and reliable broadband to rural America – where more than 19 million people lack access and are unable to take advantage of the basic opportunities that exist in other communities.

The problem Agile and other ISPs face in attempting to bridge this “digital divide” is grounded in simple economics. The cost of infrastructure required to reach these small customer bases is simply too high to make a viable business case for deployment. For example, laying fiber can cost $30,000 per mile, making it virtually impossible to recoup the investment of extending it to many rural communities.

But throughout Ohio, we are using a new technology called TV white spaces that allows us to wirelessly deliver affordable broadband to rural communities. The problem? Outdated federal rules and regulations are holding us back.

But there is good news. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai has made rural broadband expansion one of his highest priorities, and as we learned in meetings with many members of Congress recently, our elected representatives are eager to be a part of the solution as well.

One way for leaders in Washington to help rural broadband deployment today would be to assist in the advancement of TVWS. TVWS utilize unused spectrum between broadcast television channels to wirelessly deliver broadband to underserved areas, allowing ISPs like Agile to drastically reduce deployment costs and create a viable way to bring connectivity to the rural communities that have lacked it for far too long.

With this innovative solution already being deployed in Ohio and other rural communities across the country, one would think that leaders in Washington would be doing everything in their power to help private sector innovators deploy this efficient and more affordable broadband technology.

Unfortunately, the old rules and regulations continue to hinder its widespread deployment.

When we look at the regulatory barriers holding TVWS back, it should come as no surprise that voters are upset with Washington’s response to the digital divide. According to a recent nationwide poll conducted by Connect Americans Now, nearly three in four voters believe expanding rural broadband access would have a positive impact on the nation’s economy, but 72 percent believe that Congress and federal regulators “need to do more” to connect rural America.

In order to duplicate Agile’s success and bring this technology to rural communities across the country, the FCC needs to ensure that sufficient TVWS spectrum is available for wireless use on an unlicensed basis and resolve a number of outstanding technical rules regarding issues such as tower heights and power restrictions.

While the FCC has ultimate authority over these issues, members of Congress can add their voice to this debate by working with the commission to finalize these rules.

At the end of the day, Rural America wants solutions, and we have one. It’s working in Ohio and for thousands of other rural Americans across the country.

Kyle Quillen is the president and CEO of Agile Networks, an internet service provider based in Canton, Ohio.

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