The digital divide: Why federal regulations are holding back internet innovation in rural Oregon

By Skip Newberry
Portland Business Journal

The Technology Association of Oregon has been advocating for and empowering technology businesses in Oregon for many years. We’ve stood alongside our members through huge advances in technology in that time and are always working to ensure that Oregon’s technology industry has the resources and support to compete in our nation’s booming tech economy.

One huge issue still stands out that is failing both Oregon’s tech professionals and its citizens: the digital divide.

Because of historic limits in technology, it is currently cheaper to provide fast and reliable internet to densely-populated urban centers than it is to provide that same service to rural areas. The traditional economic motivators are clear for internet providers: the more people living in an area, the more people there are to pay for service. While it certainly makes economic sense on paper, that disparity in service has put rural Oregonians at a huge disadvantage compared to urban Oregonians.

Rural business owners, farmers, students, medical and technology professionals are just not able to keep up with their counterparts in Portland and Salem. The state of Oregon and Oregon’s higher education institutions have recently drawn attention to this need, and are currently pursuing legislative and programmatic initiatives at the state level. To address this challenge head on, we also need help at the federal level.

Microsoft has developed a technology that can broadcast internet in much the same way that the original televisions brought news and shows to our living rooms. It’s a technology that is 50 percent cheaper than LTE wireless technology and 80 percent cheaper than fiber optic cable.

This technology utilizes an unused portion of the telecommunications spectrum known as “TV white space” that reaches 80 percent of rural areas in our country and can easily be further expanded and used to broadcast broadband to areas that have few to no options for high speed internet.

Unfortunately, current FCC regulations limit the ability for this technology to be deployed. Like so many other industries, the federal regulations have not kept up with progress and advancement, and average Americans have unnecessarily suffered. Oregon’s federal delegation needs to work with the FCC to update federal policy to ensure this technology’s success and, technically speaking, ensure that three channels below 700 MHz are available for wireless use on an unlicensed basis in every market in the country, with additional TV white spaces available in smaller markets and rural areas.

This technology also offers huge opportunities for our state’s tech industry. First, Microsoft is looking to deploy this technology through partnerships with service providers already working in local communities, ensuring that they won’t impede or overtake local telecom businesses.

Second, the open technology patents Microsoft has used will allow tech professionals in Oregon, as in elsewhere, to work on and help improve the technology. Much in the way that Tesla has developed electric car technology and shared the technology with other companies; the societal advancement is much more important than an individual business’s profits.

The Technology Association is proud to support this technology as a member of Connect Americans Now, the coalition that has formed to advocate for updating this federal policy. We hope that our federal delegation will stand with us to support rural Oregonians and our statewide tech industry.

Read the original post in the Portland Business Journal here.

Join our fight to bring broadband to all rural Americans. Tell Washington to take action to bridge the digital divide now!