A group of Nebraska telecommunications companies made an important point for state policymakers in a recent World-Herald Midlands Voices essay. When the state provides subsidies to help private-sector companies extend high-capacity broadband to Nebraska’s rural areas, regulators should take care to require that any new telecom infrastructure meet appropriate high standards.
Otherwise, the state could wind up subsidizing new systems that still fall short in providing the appropriate level of reliability and capacity. Such an outcome would waste state funds and fail to meet the needs of rural residents and businesses for Internet service of the appropriate quality.
That’s a proper caution as the Nebraska Public Services Commission and the State Legislature consider options such as a reverse auction, in which the lowest bidder prevails and receives a subsidy from the state’s universal service fund, whose revenues come from phone-bill fees.
Thirty-seven percent of rural Nebraskans lack access to high-speed broadband service, a state task force recently reported. Such service currently is unavailable for 84% of public libraries in towns with a population of less than 2,500.
The higher costs of installing infrastructure and servicing large rural areas with small populations have long been a roadblock in extending Internet service to such regions. Still, as the telecommunications companies said in their Midlands Voices essay, individual carriers have succeeded in some cases, setting the right example.
The state’s revenues to subsidize broadband extension are limited. Nebraska regulators should take care to insist on rigorous standards in distributing those funds to help address this critical economic need.