Rural broadband is currently having a moment in American political discourse. No less than 5 presidential candidates have released plans to connect the country’s rural places, and the FCC has recently announced a $20billion funding program for fixed broadband and a $9billion program for 5G deployment in rural America. Despite these initiatives and interests, however, rural America remains woefully disconnected from a digital world that the urban and wealthy take for granted. Worse yet, the digital divide is growing, not shrinking despite billions of dollars of yearly investment and dozens of legislative proposals.
This talk explains the policies that help and hinder broadband deployment in rural America. Christopher Ali argues that our current policy architecture grossly over-privileges incumbent telephone companies and systematically discourages new entrants from offering broadband, and demonstrates how the largest telecommunication companies have an economic incentive to keep the digital divide alive. “To rectify this imbalance, we need to democratize our approach to rural broadband policy and funding. This begins with the FCC and USDA, and spreads to state and municipal governments. For the United States to realize universal connectivity of high speed, high quality broadband, policymakers must recognize the crucial role played by municipalities, cooperatives, and local ISPs in connecting the rural unconnected,” says Ali.