Having grown up in the Midwest, I know very well that many of the states in that region are a mix of urban, suburbs, college towns, rural communities, state parks and farm land. The first time I really had a sense of anything different was when I was dating my now husband, Don, and driving up to visit his home in New Jersey. As he announced the towns and cities we were passing through, I was taken aback by the fact that it felt like we never actually “left” any town with a continuous stream of homes and businesses and simply new roadside signs announcing our location’s name every few miles.
With the 2020 election just around the corner, this year is no different but add in a large number of Democratic candidates vying for the Presidential nomination and you have a lot of talk about rural America. And we certainly welcome that critical discussion here at NTCA. Many of the candidates have been active recently in promoting their rural policy platforms.
So I always welcome what happens in Iowa every four years (likely more than the folks who actually live in Iowa do!) with the onslaught of politics in their backyard. That invasion truly kicks off in high gear around the Iowa State Fair. This 10 day adventure is world renowned and features amazing culinary treats (fried twinkies anyone?), a full slew of contests (Mr. Legs??) rides, carnival games…and of course anyone running for federal office.
A number of candidates have put forward proposals on how they would craft policies to rejuvenate rural economies – and broadband access is certainly central to those initiatives. From government run broadband access to new federal support programs for the private sector – the proposals from Presidential candidates Warren, Klobuchar, Buttigieg and others have been an interesting read.
That is why we have also taken the initiative to proactively reach out to all of the campaigns to share our own thoughts of how broadband can be deployed across this great land. It is important to remind folks running for office that the small businesses in NTCA’s membership have led the charge to date in delivering broadband to rural consumers and businesses. Although many rural areas lack even basic broadband access, nearly three-quarters of rural consumers and businesses served by NTCA members can access broadband speeds of at least 25 Mbps.
Since 2013, 69 NTCA members have been recognized as serving “Smart Rural Communities” through their collaboration with local leaders on broadband-enabled solutions; another 176 providers are Certified Gig-Capable, meaning they can deliver the highest speeds in some of the most rural parts of the United States.
However, there is still much work to be done and there are far too many people in the United States who are waiting for these types of services and access to come to their communities and hometowns. Careful deliberation will be needed over broadband funding strategies to ensure that “flavor of the day” proposals do not undermine the good work that is underway, that overbuilding of federally supported networks is not done with additional federal support and that any new initiatives focus on the future – promoting networks that are built to stand the test of time and continue delivering high-quality services for decades to come, rather than focusing on near-term goals that may leave consumers wanting again in the future.
Here at NTCA, we applaud every effort to deploy and maintain broadband connectivity and we welcome the opportunity to collaborate with any policymaker who makes it a priority!