The search for better broadband should start with existing local providers

NEW NTCA logo 4CRural connections

By Shirley Bloomfield, CEO
NTCA—The Rural Broadband Association

There is no question that broadband Internet service is the key to economic and community development, especially in rural America. However, there are differing opinions in Washington about the best way to continue building our nation’s connected infrastructure.

While I applaud President Obama’s recent attention on increasing every American’s access to robust and affordable broadband, it’s not clear that his focus on creating more government-run networks in marketplaces where private operators already exist is the best path toward bringing more jobs and opportunity to rural America.

If our leaders are looking for an excellent model for what can be accomplished, we believe they should turn to the experts who have decades of experience deploying and maintaining modern telecommunications infrastructure: community-based, independent telcos like yours.

Rural telecommunications providers are delivering advanced technology to their customers.

Rural telecommunications providers are delivering advanced technology to their customers.

Nationwide, there are over 1,000 technology providers like yours that serve over 4 million households in the most sparsely populated pockets of our country, deploying high-speed, high-quality broadband services. For decades, these providers have gone above and beyond to build the infrastructure that allows our country’s most rural markets to access the same technologies found in our largest cities — and they’ve done it all under the extremely difficult financial and physical conditions that come with deploying technologies in rural and remote communities.

Thanks to the hard work and commitment of companies such as your local provider, rural America now has access to affordable broadband in some of the most remote locations. But the sustainability of those networks is at risk, and other areas need broadband as well. Policymakers in search of answers to these communications challenges in rural America should turn first to those who have shown they can get the job done time and again, rather than casting about for the next new thing, creating regulatory uncertainty and putting at risk significant investments already made in existing networks through the prospect of redundant or wasteful overbuilding.

There’s already a great broadband success story out there in rural America, and it is being written by community-based telecom providers like yours. As our national broadband story progresses, we should strive to build upon proven initiatives and leverage existing efforts that are working, rather than pursue new uncharted pathways. As this debate plays out, you can be assured that you have a voice in Washington, as your provider joins with hundreds of others through NTCA as the unified voice of America’s rural broadband companies.

Wireless needs wires

Why your cell phone would not work without the wired landline network

When this company was formed decades ago, our mission was to provide reliable telephone service to our region. Telephone service was the single most important method of communicating quickly with family, businesses or emergency services — across town or across the country.

bigstock-Smartphone-application-concept-34815812Today there are more cell phones in America than there are people. Users talk trillions of minutes each year and send billions of text messages every month. With all this wireless connectivity, do we really need the wired network at all?

Absolutely. The copper and fiber lines that run overhead and underground through the networks of companies like ours play a critical role in moving signals between the more than 300,000 cell sites located across the country. When you use your cell phone to make a call or access the Internet, your connection spends part of its journey on the same network that makes landline calls and Internet connections possible.

“The wireline network is the backbone of our whole telecommunications system. We need wires.” Those were the words of U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., who chairs the Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet, in an interview last fall on C-Span (www.c-spanvideo.org/program/Pryor). AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson expressed a similar sentiment last year in a Forbes magazine article when he said, “The more wireless we become, the more fixed-line dependent we become.”

According to a Foundation for Rural Service whitepaper*, the components of a wireless phone network are:

Cell phone: The device you use to make the call

Cell site: A radio transceiver that connects the caller to the network

Mobile switching center: The “brains” that control all elements of the wireless network

Interexchange switching and transport network: The equipment that connects the wireless network to other wireless or wireline networks

The transport network is where we come in. Without our network of wires, your wireless phone calls would never be connected. So the next time you reach for your cell phone to make a call or check your email, remember that it’s the wireline companies like ours that are helping make that connection possible.

 *The whitepaper “Wireless Needs Wires: The Vital Role of Rural Networks in Completing the Call” was produced by the Foundation for Rural Service and authored by GVNW. To order a complimentary copy of the full paper, visit www.frs.org.