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Progress Made on the Road To Bring Broadband to Rural Areas, but Many Miles To Go

by: Sharon Gillett, Chief, Wireline Competition Bureau

June 22, 2011

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Congress in the 2008 Farm Bill recognized the importance of bringing broadband to rural America.  It told the FCC Chairman, in consultation with the Secretary of Agriculture, to take a close look at rural broadband, and to submit reports describing “a comprehensive rural broadband strategy” to Congress.  In May of 2009, Acting Chairman Copps delivered the first report.  Today, Chairman Genachowski released the second—and final— report required by the legislation.

Its findings: while progress has been made, more remains to be done.  Approximately 28 percent of rural residents still lack access to the fixed broadband that many Americans take for granted.  That amounts to 19 million people in rural areas, compared to 7 million who lack access in non-rural areas.  All Americans should have access to robust and affordable broadband services.  Broadband’s ability to erase distance is especially important in rural areas, where it can connect job-creating businesses with global markets and bring world-class education and health care information to remote communities.  So we’re working hard to close that gap.
 
First, the progress.  Private industry continues to make significant investments to extend and upgrade broadband networks.  The government has delivered approximately $8 billion in broadband grants and loans to unserved and underserved areas through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.  The FCC is moving forward with implementing the National Broadband Plan’s aggressive and comprehensive broadband agenda.  Examples include reducing the cost of deploying broadband by streamlining access to poles and rights-of-way for wireline and wireless facilities, and improving data collection to enable better policymaking.  And the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), in cooperation with the FCC and entities in every state, has created the new National Broadband Map, which empowers users to view the broadband options in their neighborhood and identifies areas still lacking service.
 
Next, the work ahead.  The FCC is overhauling the Universal Service Fund so it can connect rural areas to broadband, just as it did with phone service. We’re also overhauling our intercarrier compensation system so it will provide the right incentives for companies to invest in advanced, efficient Internet Protocol networks capable of delivering voice, data, and video.  These initiatives are key to ubiquitous rural broadband.
 
We’ll continue to track progress all across America and present our findings in our annual broadband progress report to Congress.  We’re keeping our sights on delivering broadband where it’s needed most.
 
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