By Russell A. Moore
March 1, 2017 at 5:00 am ET
Fixing America’s bridges, roads and tunnels is a major priority of the new Trump administration. Congress is already discussing plans for new infrastructure investment funding mechanisms, an effort that businesses and government are closely watching. A bipartisan group of 48 U.S. senators, including Texas Republican John Cornyn, believe it is essential to include funding to expand broadband projects in these new programs, to embed 21st century connectivity in new improvements to America’s infrastructure.
This week, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation will dig into initial thoughts about framing an infrastructure program. As our policymakers gear up for action, the broadband industry is urging Congress to build a simple roadmap to truly deliver on the promise of universal connectivity for all Americans, one that leverages programs that are working, removes regulatory barriers and channels investment to areas of the country that lack meaningful access to broadband services.
As the only fiber-based broadband provider in the vibrant rural Texan community of Big Bend sharing 485 miles of border with neighboring Mexico, we strongly endorse the commitment to including funding for broadband in new infrastructure programs. Today’s transportation systems are no longer just asphalt and concreted structures. They are communications devices, wired with cell towers and sensors that deliver life-saving information on weather, traffic accidents and safety updates. This is critical along the border, where such communications tools help government with homeland security.
Our company has a long history of providing support for homeland security, and we are proud of the new communications services we have brought to this remote region. We have built high-speed broadband services to a vast majority of customers over the remote Big Bend terrain, a nearly 18,000-square-mile remote territory with mainly unpaved roads that stretches along the border.
Wired networks like ours are the bedrock of the nation’s data and communications networks. Nearly all wireless data traffic rides over wired networks, whether via Wi-Fi, or via longer-range wired backhaul connections that link cell towers to broader voice and data networks. Wired network providers invest significant amounts of capital to accommodate all types of traffic growth, including the continually expanding demand for mobile device off-load.
Our upgrades to the network and advanced communications services have enabled the reopening of Boquillas Crossing, an unmanned immigration station between Presidio and Del Rio, Texas. The station is monitored by remote link that transmits data to border agents in other locations who check documents.
But we want to do more. The Department of Homeland Security wants to expand their capabilities on the border through technology. This technological expansion requires an investment in a fiber optic infrastructure in order to deliver these mission critical services. Fiber optics build networks for the future, but are expensive to construct in extremely remote areas. While some funding to bridge this gap has come through the nation’s universal service program, the program has restrictions that limit rural carriers’ ability to invest in the networks required to ensure our nation’s security along the border. Expanding support for programs devoted to building out rural broadband should be a national priority.
Nearly 13.3 percent of rural homes — 3.5 million households — lack a wired connection. Connecting these unserved areas would provide important economic, community and social benefits: access to critical health care, energy savings, employment opportunities and improving the educational prospects for students in remote areas without reliable access to the internet. Job growth is linked to broadband investments as well, according to a study by the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs, which found that areas with one to three broadband providers experience a 6.4 percent higher employment growth rate compared to areas without broadband.
America’s broadband industry has invested billions to expand advanced, high-speed communications service throughout much of the United States, bringing innovations in health care, energy savings, education and security. To bring these benefits to all parts of America, we must commit as a nation to putting broadband first in our policy planning for the future.
Russell A. Moore is general manager and chief operating officer of Big Bend Telephone Co. headquartered in Alpine, Texas.
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