FCC Sets in Motion First Phase of Rural Broadband Reform

More americans may receive access to high-speed broadband in underserved rural communities as the result of telephone subsidy reforms launched yesterday by the Federal Communications Commission. The commission’s national broadband plan highlights the importance of rural connectivity to telemedicine, employment, and economic opportunity across the country.

The commission announced the official launch of the “Connect America Fund,” created in October 2011 to reform the Universal Service Fund -- a subsidy supporting rural telephone companies. The first phase of funding aims to boost rural broadband deployments and increase the efficiency of subsidies supporting the most rural communities.

Widespread access to broadband is vital to innovation. It not only democratizes the internet -- one of the most fertile platforms for discovery and invention -- it casts the net wider in the search for America’s emerging innovators and consumers. With access to high-speed broadband comes the ability for connection across the nation and for the use of the internet as a transformative tool for innovation and economic growth.

The FCC has said that about 18 million people lack access to broadband that meets its basic benchmarks for speed and that more than 83 percent of these Americans live in areas serviced by companies impacted by adjustments to existing rules. These individuals represent potential startups, entrepreneurs, and customers cut off from the economic opportunity offered by the internet.

Efforts by private companies such as Google’s fiber project in Kansas have demonstrated the ability of companies to reach communities with technology other entities may not provide. The FCC plan represents the beginning of a process to achieve much needed penetration in the most unconnected segments of the U.S. broadband landscape.