Tuesday, April 24, 2018
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Connecting America


The laying of fiber optic cables in a rural America. Source: Blue Diamond Industries

Advanced telecommunications capability is the term that the FCC uses to refer to “high-speed, switched, broadband telecommunications capability that enables users to originate and receive high-quality voice, data, graphics, and video telecommunications using any technology”. In short, advanced telecommunications capability is being able to call people, watch videos, and load websites. It is the ability to watch YouTube, login to your Medicare, or the ability for your kids to send messages over social media. It is something that is essential for living life in today’s high-tech world, so much so that it doesn’t seem that “advanced”.

Yet over 39 percent of rural Americans lack access to the backbone of our daily lives. Over 23,430,000 Americans cannot reliably access the internet. It is needless to say that in the digital age, where everything from learning to health insurance is becoming digitalized, access to internet is vital for all residents of America. It seems as if most of America would be connected, but this reliable Federal Communications Commission data shows otherwise.

This is inequality in internet access is based off the pure economical aspect of providing rural areas internet access. According to sample data from the US Department of Transportation’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology, laying one mile of fiber optic cables cost anywhere from fifteen to fifty thousand dollars, and that’s in 2008 dollars. Internet companies can compensate for these tremendous costs in urban areas because one mile of fiber optic cables opens access to many customers due to the high population density of urban areas. For example, about 18,000 people live in a square mile in San Francisco. In rural areas, however, houses are more spread out. For example, the rural state of Wyoming has only 6 people per square mile. That means a fiber optic company can access 6000 more people in San Francisco than in Wyoming.

Let’s say that a mile of fiber optic costs eighteen thousand, which is cheap compared to other public fiber optic projects. With a population density of 6 people per square mile, that translates to 3,000 dollars per person in Wyoming. 3,000 dollars per person, not per household. That is a very high cost, making expansion into rural areas unattractive for big internet companies.

What if the government required big internet companies to expand their rural coverage? Big internet companies, like Verizon and Comcast, can use some of the money they make in urban areas to compensate for the losses derived from their rural programs. If the federal government manages such a program correctly, then internet providers can continue to bring in lots of profit, while increasing rural access to internet. Instead of making consumers pay for rural expansion, we can require big internet companies to decrease their large margins.

With such a plan in place, internet companies will still be able to make considerably large profits and keep their investors happy, and at the same time rural America will be connected with the rest of the United States. Internet companies will protest, but it is in the American spirit to have the rich help give the poor basic necessities, including the Internet.

While this plan is financially practical, it is also in the public interest. A connected nation is a strong nation, as digital connectivity helps rural residents use online government programs and eCommerce. Digital connectivity will also help the government save rural residents in the case of a natural disaster or military attack.

A connected America is a strong America. Let’s take a little of big internet’s money, and use it for the American good.

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