Don’t Forget About “Broadband for All”

By at 20 November, 2018, 9:35 am

Small Business Insider

There’s a Solution to Help Close the Digital Divide in Rural America

By Karen Kerrigan –

The year is quickly coming to a close, but there is still time for movement on policies that will help our small businesses both now and into the new yearFor the lame duck session of Congress, there is an opportunity to advance a significant capital formation bill, health insurance tax relief and perhaps some small business regulatory reform.  The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) can also finish off a very productive year by addressing “TV white space” technology, which will help more small businesses and consumers in rural America access quality broadband.

All Americans need the tools of the digital economy to thrive and pursue opportunities.  For rural towns and communities that want a shot at renewal or perhaps attracting small businesses and manufacturing facilities to these areas, it’s an uphill battle if not impossible to do so if broadband in not available.  That is why access to broadband has been a top priority for SBE Council in 2018, and we are pleased that FCC Chairman Ajit Pai shares this critical goal.

As Chairman Pai noted in a recent update on his broadband initiatives, his number one priority since taking the reins at the FCC has been “closing the digital divide and bringing the benefits of the Internet age to all Americans.”  He has made significant progress. Chairman Pai’s smart regulatory initiatives have generated higher levels of private sector investment into broadband projects, and the drive to 5G deployment is accelerating.  This is all great news for entrepreneurs and our economy

Closing the digital divide in rural America through the deployment of fiber broadband would cost a lot of money – approximately $61 billion dollars, according to CostQuest Associates (which does not include ongoing maintenance costs).  That is why collaboration, innovative solutions in the use of technology, and deploying our nation’s spectrum to its most productive uses are all vital elements to closing the digital divide.

What are TV White Spaces?

The unlicensed spectrum between TV stations, called white spaces, is an opportunity to bring broadband to rural communities.  Microsoft has been testing TV white spaces (TVWS) technology in several areas of the country.  The results have shown great promise, and its Airband initiative now has partnerships in 13 states.  The goal is to bring broadband to 2 million rural Americans by July 4, 2020.

That would make a respectable dent in the number of Americans who currently lack access. According to the FCC, 19 million Americans are without broadband.

TVWS pilot programs and commercial deals across the country have demonstrated that the technology works. Deployment is more affordable than fiber broadband and TVWS does interfere with other users of spectrum.  TVWS is not a competitive technology, but a complimentary one to help close the broadband gap.

As noted by the Daily Yonder: “The Microsoft initiative is focusing especially on small communities and hard-to-reach areas. The corporation is not getting into the Internet business. Instead, they are helping coordinate the people and institutions that need to work together to successfully roll out the new broadband delivery technology. Besides TV whitespaces, the effort will also use fixed wireless and satellite.”  

TVWS technology is not a “hopeful, maybe” strategy.  Pilot projects are working.  Rural Americans are accessing broadband.  In an interview with the Daily Yonder, Agile Networks founder and CEO Kyle Quillen said, “At least 100,000 Ohioans who currently have no broadband should become connected thanks to Microsoft and TV whitespace.”

FCC’s Unfinished Broadband Business

As we have already witnessed with the broadband internet, when government maintains a light regulatory touch and opens spectrum up to private investment, amazing things happen.  Consumers, entrepreneurs and their employees, and the overall economy have all benefitted from smart policies that enable investment and private sector know-how to work their magic.

That is why SBE Council continues to push for the dedication of at least three usable channels (below 700 MHZ) of spectrum to be made available for white space broadband transmission in markets across the country.  That is what’s necessary to provide connectivity.  The FCC is considering the issue but has yet to take action.

Chairman Pai’s leadership is needed to finalize outstanding proceedings to adopt appropriate technical rules and ensure that sufficient spectrum is available for unlicensed broadband. Additional rules would include approaches to enable Internet of Things (IoT) opportunities such as precision agriculture and broadband connectivity on specialized vehicles such as school buses on defined routes in limited geographic areas.

TVWS technology is working, and the opportunity is at hand to provide broadband access to more Americans.  TWWS technology is a gap solution that will help bring us closer to “broadband for all” and regulatory barriers in Washington should not be the main reason why consumers in rural America are being denied access.  If anything, and as championed by Chairman Pai, government rules should help private sector innovators accelerate and expand access.

The FCC has the power to remove key regulatory barriers that are discouraging the further development of TVWS technology.  Let’s get this done by year-end and give hope to many more Americans and small businesses in rural America who deserve access to the American dream through broadband technology.

Karen Kerrigan is president & CEO of the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council

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