Most policymakers agree it’s long past time to tackle the digital divide that has left 19 million Americans in rural communities without access to broadband internet. Yet often missing from these discussions are concrete actions that we can take, right now, to accelerate the deployment of new technologies and quickly deliver affordable, reliable access to the internet.
That is why the plan offered by Connect Americans Now (CAN) is so important. By utilizing a range of technologies, including TV white spaces, we can eliminate the digital divide by 2022. These innovative technologies are ready now to harness private-sector innovation and tear down the digital divide.
Our solution has already attracted broad-based support. In less than five months, Connect Americans Now (CAN) has surpassed 100 coalition members who support our plan and agree that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) should clear away the regulatory hurdles that stand in the way of innovation.
CAN’s members include a diverse array of organizations representing technology leaders from multiple fields and advocates from across rural America. It includes groups like the National Grange, several state Farm Bureaus, the National PTA and the National Rural Education Association, as well as companies like Microsoft and InTouch Health (a large telemedicine provider), plus dozens of others who believe it is past time for concrete action to eliminate the digital divide.
With so much support, why do some continue to oppose CAN’s plan to bring access to 19 million Americans?
In truth, the only serious opposition comes from just one Washington, D.C. special interest group: The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB).
A recent blog post from NAB asserts that if the FCC protects access to white space channels on an unlicensed basis, then the technology will displace television broadcasters. But that wasn’t true when they raised the same objections to streaming media, satellite radio broadcasting, pay-tv, and a range of other services that Americans enjoy every day.
The reality is that there is a varying number of TV white space channels available in each market within the country. Making available at least one additional vacant channel will have little to no impact on broadcasters, but it will bring us past a critical threshold for rapidly deploying a valuable new tool for rural connectivity.
That is because there is an abundance of spectrum that is laying fallow throughout rural America. In many rural markets, where the impact of the digital divide is most acute, there are dozens of unused channels. And while there could be a limited number of low-power TV stations impacted in just a handful of densely populated urban markets, these challenges could easily be overcome. More importantly, they offer no justification for ignoring the needs of communities where broadband internet access could unlock untold opportunities for 19 million Americans in education, small business, healthcare and agriculture.
Worse, the NAB does not offer alternative solutions to bridge the digital divide — it only opposes new efforts to bring an innovative solution to the marketplace.
This is par for the course for the NAB, which has consistently objected to new technologies. But the objections of one special interest in Washington, D.C. should not outweigh the interests of millions of Americans who stand to benefit from real, actionable solutions to the digital divide.
In the 21st century, having access to broadband internet is as critical as access to electricity. The time for idle talk is past, and the time for action is now.