Fischer, a Republican, is Nebraska’s senior U.S. senator and a member of the Senate’s Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation and the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship. Pai is a member of the Federal Communications Commission.
The American economy is growing and changing at lightning speed. Virtual connections allow businesses to compete and communicate in ways we never imagined.
The Internet allows the small-town architect to send his designs anywhere. It enables the forward-looking farmer to watch the commodity markets and plan out his season. And it empowers the rural business owner to execute an idea and create jobs without moving from his local community. Nebraska and the nation stand to benefit from the Internet revolution.
The challenge, however, is making sure the private sector has the incentive and ability to build — not just in our nation’s largest cities but across the American landscape.
Thus far, dozens of small cable companies, family-owned rural telephone firms and wireless Internet service providers (among others) have risked capital to invest in this effort, which employs thousands of people. They were able to do this because of a longstanding, bipartisan consensus that the market, not government, should guide the Internet’s development.
Unfortunately, the U.S. government recently abandoned that approach in favor of heavy-handed, so-called “net neutrality” regulations born in the 1930s — rules that put bureaucrats and lawyers, not innovators and engineers, in charge of the online world.
The federal government’s new Internet regulations are already hurting small businesses in rural America. Just ask Affordable Internet Solutions in Waverly, Future Technologies in Lincoln, Telebeep Wireless in Norfolk, or STE Wireless in Utica. These four small Internet service providers told the FCC just last month that this “regulatory intrusion into our businesses” will “likely force us to raise prices, delay deployment expansion, or both.”
As a U.S. senator and a commissioner at the Federal Communications Commission, respectively, we have yet to meet a consumer who thinks broadband prices are too low, speeds are too fast or options are too many. But we’re headed to higher prices, slower speeds and fewer options.
Just compare the American broadband market with Europe, where broadband has been regulated like a public utility. Four times as many rural Americans have access to broadband speeds of 25 megabits per second (Mbps) compared to their rural European counterparts.
Meanwhile, American wire line and wireless providers invest twice as much per household. The United States continues to lead with the world’s fastest, most ubiquitous mobile broadband.
The Internet is the greatest free-market innovation in history. And if we want it to thrive, our government needs to refocus its efforts on what really benefits consumers — namely, more broadband investment, deployment and competition.
We need policies that will make it easier to deploy high-speed broadband. The building blocks of an Internet network (things like laying optical fiber in the ground) are high-cost projects, often requiring extensive planning and years of waiting for government approval. Long waits can deter some companies from acting at all, especially in less populous states. We need to streamline the permitting process.
Next, the federal government needs to modernize its rules to unleash high-tech connectivity. One example is the Universal Service Fund, an $8.7 billion fund that is supposed to support companies that promise to deploy broadband in rural America. But the current program is still rooted in the telephone era, and gives companies funding for broadband based only on the telephone lines they serve.
This effectively penalizes any rural company that offers customers broadband as a stand-alone service. We need to fix the Universal Service Fund and give rural consumers the same options for broadband as every other American.
Finally, we need policies to encourage private investment. After all, broadband providers invested $75 billion in their networks last year, nearly $66 billion more than the federal government. That means we need a framework that reduces regulatory uncertainty so that private companies can invest with confidence.
Innovation and investment have made America’s Internet economy the envy of the world. But building the broadband networks of tomorrow requires common-sense regulation today, particularly in rural America.
It is time to make Internet access and broadband deployment a national priority. Every American and every Nebraskan — from Scottsbluff and Springfield to Valentine and Valley — deserves an equal opportunity to compete and succeed in the digital world.