Wisconsin is on the receiving end of a lot of attention lately from President Obama and Governor Romney due to its status as a swing state. During appearances in Wisconsin, both candidates have discussed the need to strengthen the economy and create jobs. These are important goals, particularly in Wisconsin’s many rural communities. Yet the federal government is proposing a change that would hamper economic development throughout rural Wisconsin.
Last year, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) changed a program known as the Universal Service Fund. For decades the fund has helped rural telecommunications companies bring modern services to rural communities. That means families and businesses in Wisconsin’s rural communities could enjoy the same high-speed Internet and advanced communications services as those living in Green Bay, Milwaukee, or Madison.
While the FCC promised their changes would expand broadband access in rural areas, the opposite has proven true. And to make matters worse, the FCC is proposing more changes without assessing the consequences of those they have already made. These changes combine to make an already challenging job of bringing broadband access to rural Wisconsin even more difficult and threaten the many benefits that access offers.
Broadband Internet powers some of the most fundamental aspects of life, including helping rural businesses connect to new customers in more markets and allowing them to grow and create new jobs. Broadband Internet provides local volunteer fire and rescue departments with information that helps save lives. It gives community doctors the ability to collaborate with colleagues at hospitals in Marshfield, Milwaukee, and Madison. It provides telemedicine services that improve patient health. It gives students access to the same educational opportunities available to those in larger school districts via distance learning.
Independent telecommunications providers in rural Wisconsin, like TDS, are committed to delivering these benefits to their customers, but we cannot do so without support. The FCC’s recent actions have left providers with massive uncertainty. There is uncertainty about the availability of funds to help recover the high costs of delivering advanced services to customers located in remote, rural areas. This is a concern and disadvantage only rural telecom providers are facing.
Some companies have no choice but to raise rates to repay loan obligations to expand their services that were entered into under the old rules. Some companies have been forced to cut jobs. Some can no longer make planned investments to expand or maintain their broadband network infrastructure.
If rural telecommunications companies are to continue providing customers with advanced telecommunications services, the FCC needs to establish clear rules that ensure stable and sufficient support to make them possible. Rural residents in Wisconsin can learn more about how the FCC’s rules may impact them by visiting www.saveruralbroadband.org.
If President Obama and Governor Romney are serious about promoting economic development across Wisconsin, they should urge the FCC to adopt rules that achieve true universal service for everyone—including people living in rural Wisconsin. Otherwise, it will be a campaign promise that is never fully realized among rural voters.
The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of WTN Media, LLC. WTN accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.