Sometimes it takes a crisis to expose cracks that are normally hidden from view—or perhaps cracks that are more convenient to ignore.
The challenges placed on families and institutions small and large by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic have brought vulnerabilities in the internet infrastructure into sharp focus. With an unprecedented percentage of the workforce working from home, as well as tens of thousands of students attempting distance learning for the first time, even households with strong broadband are seeing their internet usage spike.
These challenges threaten our livelihoods and the education of our children, the generation that will inherit a world created by the decisions we make today. That’s why we have to put our values front and center. Connecting all Americans with the best-possible broadband internet, no matter whether they live in urban or rural areas, is no longer an investment. It’s a must.
Politicians and government agencies are listening as groups like the Rural Broadband Consortium continue to push for broadband internet access in areas where internet options are few and far between. The problem is that too many have a shortsighted view of what “the best broadband” means. To some, it means speeds or latency that may appear okay today but will fall short tomorrow, never mind 10 or 20 years down the road.
Here’s what “the best broadband” means to us. It means an internet connection that meets the needs of families and businesses for years to come. It means a network where upstream and downstream speeds are equally important and equally abundant. It’s a network that can support remote learning, a connection to the office through a virtual private network, and a videoconference with a doctor, all at the same time. It means being prepared with better infrastructure when the next crisis hits.
For these reasons, we need to aim higher and do better. That means driving more investment in fiber, the fundamental communications infrastructure for the 21st century.
More than a year ago, the National Cable Telecommunications Association introduced its Fiber Fast Plan as a complement to the Federal Communications Commission’s FAST Plan, which noted the essential nature of fiber to achieve both national 5G goals and broader internet connectivity needs in rural America. Today, the chief components of that plan—providing predictable and sufficient funding for fiber investment in rural areas where there is no business case for deployment, and in lower-income areas where residents may not be able to foot the bill—still ring true.
We have to avoid short-sighted attempts to invest in technologies that look cheaper to deploy now but will deliver materially lower performance that won’t keep pace with customer demand. Needing to rebuild networks over and over again is simply a waste of limited government funds. The smart money doesn’t approach any other long-term infrastructure investment this way, so why would we take an incremental approach when it comes to broadband?
Let’s build it right the first time so that all Americans have the connectivity they need now and well into the future.
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