Opinion

Regulatory Certainty Needed to Preserve Free, Open Internet in Rural America

Today, access to high-speed internet is essential for maintaining a strong local economy. America’s small businesses — including ranchers and farmers along with agriculture retailers and equipment dealers know the benefits of greater connectivity firsthand. Ensuring a free and open internet for all — while ensuring a regulatory environment that encourages innovation and investment — is vital for communities across the country.

Unfettered access to the internet has opened new opportunities and markets for rural and agricultural America to deliver their products and services. No longer limited by geographic constraints, small businesses can compete on Main Street and Wall Street. This is the power of connectivity. The internet helps rural businesses that often operate on thin margins better control costs and offer competitive prices, freeing up precious time and resources to spend on new equipment, creating jobs, and fostering innovation — all of which have positive downstream effects on local consumers and within other industries.

Take, for example, livestock auctions. Enhanced functions of marketing cattle in the 21st century has had a major positive impact on the industry. Livestock sales are no longer limited to physical attendance of buyers in the seats and regional marketing. The internet and advent of real-time video streaming has expanded livestock auctions to a national audience, improving the way cattle are marketed. From commercial feeder cattle and bred stock sales, to purebred genetics sales increased viewers and visibility increases competition, demand, and adds to true price discovery in the marketplace by opening the bidding floor up to buyers from across the United States.

These game-changing benefits for cattle producers, cattle feeders and their rural communities are made possible by the existence of commonsense, workable internet regulations. However, a major issue looms over the future of internet access for rural America: how to best preserve a free, open internet experience for all users.

No one should be limited in their ability to access the internet simply based on where they live or work. Yet, the approach to net neutrality — a set of foundational principles that underpins the internet as we know it today — is often confused by some in Washington as they attempt to force antiquated regulations. These dated rules make it harder for smaller internet service providers that serve remote, rural areas to compete and invest in expanding high-speed broadband networks into more agricultural communities. This will have a direct, negative impact on connectivity for rural Americans — connectivity needed to run a successful business and access a market audience across the country.

The current regulatory approach to net neutrality also changes with every passing administration, subject to changing political whims. Recently, congressional leadership introduced legislation that would ultimately burden small businesses with excessive and ineffective regulations. The potential cost of compliance of these inflexible rules threatens the livelihood of our nation’s small businesses and the competition that has allowed the internet to thrive since its inception.

To keep the internet free and open for everyone, a thoughtful set of rules should apply to all internet companies evenly. Rural Americans are hearty, innovative, and optimistic in their work and efforts that will continue to expand economic growth within the internet economy. A level playing field involving commonsense rules will do just that.

Chris Skorupa is the owner & manager of Beartooth Fertilizer Co., which provides fertilizer, seeding and pesticide application for residents in south central Montana and northern Wyoming, as well as a member of the US Cattlemen’s Association and the vice president of the Rural & Agriculture Council.

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