The ideas of bipartisanship and technology should not be hard concepts to grasp, and support for the melding of both was in full force during a panel discussion at the Next Century Cities “Opportunities for Bipartisan Tech Policy” session today. Former FCC staffer and Conexon founder Jon Chambers, Harold Feld from Public Knowledge, Brent Skorup with the Mercatus Center at GMU, and myself were led in the discussion by Chris Mitchell with the Community Broadband Networks.

Our panel was focused on rural broadband and discussion centered on challenges, hot topics and what are some possible out-of-the-box solutions to ponder. The talk was wide-ranging and robust (which is sometimes code for we all did not necessarily agree with one another!) but I will say that I think disagreements add to the discussion and hopefully give everyone in the room more to think about. Since wireless is somewhat the “flavor of the day” (year, decade?) here in Washington right now, it was nice to have some discussion on the importance of fiber and the scale it can achieve, which is so critical in rural markets. And who doesn’t love a reminder on the heels of CES that even wireless needs wires and the cool gadgets that consumers continue to demand will only require greater bandwidth. The feistiest I felt was when someone said that maybe vouchers were the best way to build the network and as someone representing actual infrastructure-based providers on the panel, I felt the need to jump in quickly to share the certainty that providers need when they commit to building infrastructure in low-density, high-cost markets…and I am glad to see that someone was listening….

But the biggest takeaway for me was that we had a packed room in Washington, D.C., including two former FCC Commissioners listening to a session on rural broadband. We hope to maintain the momentum that keeps this important topic in the mix.

Commissioner Rosenworcel also came to the event to speak (despite the shutdown, each commissioner makes their own call on that) and shared supportive words on supporting rural networks, the connection between networks, and the ability to keep this next generation of students become leaders of tomorrow. Blair Levin and former Commissioner Robert McDowell had a discussion onstage that included what it might take to get policymakers to pivot to contribution reform. Obviously, contribution reform is critical, and it is just as critical that it be done wisely and correctly since there might not be multiple bites at this apple…substance and the ability for a solution to work technically will be key.

Discussions like this always leave me with wishing we could find a workable solution to ensuring that all Americans have access to broadband. While my member companies serve a large chunk of geography, there is still a great deal of ground to cover where many rural broadband providers don’t currently serve and yet I still feel like we have the opportunity to be a key part of the possible solution.

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