Expanding Broadband Access for Entrepreneurs and Small Businesses in Rural America

By at 23 June, 2017, 10:17 am

by Raymond J. Keating-

Access to quality broadband is critical to the entrepreneurial ecosystem.  And if we want entrepreneurship to flourish wherever opportunity may present itself, then broadband deployment must be a priority in rural America and other pockets of the country where there is no, or limited, access.

Ajit Pai, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), recently completed a tour of parts of the rural U.S. to discuss his broadband vision with everyday Americans, small business owners, business leaders, and elected officials. He noted the importance of broadband for starting a business and taking advantage of tools and other services made available through the digital economy – like telemedicine and educational opportunities.

SBE Council fully supports Chairman Pai in his effort to bring quality broadband everywhere. The regulatory changes and initiatives he is leading at the FCC will certainly encourage the large-scale investment and innovation needed to bring the marvels and promise of the digital economy to rural America.  In addition, the FCC is looking at alternatives to get broadband to those who lack it, and one option being discussed is the “white space” solution.

The “White Space” Solution    

What are “TV white spaces” (TWS)?

As explained by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC): “Television stations often operate on the same or adjacent channels.  However, to avoid interference between each other, television stations are often operated in geographically separate areas.  Further, there are areas of the country where, because of population density, not all television channels are utilized.  This unused spectrum between TV stations — called white spaces — represents a valuable opportunity for our changing wireless mobile landscape. This block of spectrum is ripe for innovation and experimental use, holding rich potential for expanding broadband capacity and improving access for many users, and for developing technologies that can expand this type of spectrum access to other frequencies and services in order to greatly increase our ability to utilize spectrum.”

Of course, technological advancements continue, and they present opportunities in terms of using TWS to expand access to broadband Internet services, including for entrepreneurs looking to start up and expand their businesses by reaching new markets and new suppliers, and thereby, feeding economic and employment growth.

Signals on this low band spectrum can travel far distances, cover entire communities, and easily pass through obstacles like trees and buildings. Infrastructure costs are relatively low. The good news is that underserved urban and rural communities could be reached with reliable service and in a more affordable way compared to more traditional wireless technologies. Of course, building broadband infrastructure in rural communities, given the low population density, is particularly expensive.

To allow this innovation to proceed via private-sector investment and innovation, the FCC needs to make sure that three usable TWS channels remain available in markets around the country. Again, the issue is being discussed at the FCC and a hearing will take place in July on the matter.

Given the realities of doing business in a rural setting, small businesses in such areas stand to reap great rewards from expanded, reliable, affordable broadband service – again, being able to efficiently tap into markets across their respective states, the nation and the world.  Economic development in the modern era requires broadband access, and successful entrepreneurship and the ability to do business everywhere and from anywhere hinges on delivering broadband access to these areas, and it needs to happen soon.

Investment in these kinds of broadband services, as in the case with other areas of telecommunications advancements, would present expanded opportunities for the small businesses that overwhelmingly populate the overarching telecommunications sector, where 83.1 percent of employer firms have less than 20 workers and 94.8 percent less than 100 employees.

As we have seen, when government maintains a light regulatory touch and opens spectrum up to private investment, great things can happen that benefit consumers, entrepreneurs, small businesses and their employees, and the overall economy.


Raymond J. Keating is chief economist for the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council.

Keating’s latest book published by SBE Council is titled Unleashing Small Business Through IP:  The Role of Intellectual Property in Driving Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Investment and it is available free on SBE Council’s website here.

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