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Tech Industry

Of broadband and special interests

American ISP Association Director Sue Ashdown says the Tauzin-Dingell bill fails to foster the deployment of high-speed Internet technologies and will extend the Baby Bells' local phone service monopoly into broadband.

It does not take a Ph.D. in economics to know that building and growing a sustainable foundation for small-business development in our rural communities is absolutely necessary for improving the health of our nation's economy. It requires programs and policies that stimulate, support and drive entrepreneurial investment, creating jobs and opportunity for rural Americans.

Without accountability, the Baby Bells can continue to provide shoddy service without fear of penance or penalty.
The U.S. Senate has passed a bill that would encourage these opportunities by helping to fund the construction, improvement and acquisition of high-speed Internet networks in rural areas. The funding is technology-neutral, and consists of grants and low-interest loans to anyone who can "furnish, improve or extend a broadband service" to a truly rural area. It is this technology that will finally bridge the digital divide separating less-populated communities with urban areas, and allows farmers, ranchers and small businesses to have more effective access to information, clients and purchasers.

However, Congressmen Billy Tauzin and John Dingell want to eliminate this program.

The reason?

Very simply, they are concerned that funding rapid deployment of high-speed Internet technology will undermine their efforts in the Senate to pass a narrow, special-interest bill that would extend the regional Baby Bells' local phone service monopoly into broadband. Their legislation is known as the Tauzin-Dingell bill, deceptively named the "Internet Freedom and Broadband Deployment Act."

While the Senate proposal would immediately benefit underserved rural America, the Tauzin-Dingell approach to the problem does absolutely nothing to encourage, fund or assist deployment of high-speed Internet technologies. It strips the competitive promise of the 1996 Telecommunications Act and replaces it by granting the Baby Bells a virtual lock on broadband services. They eliminate regulatory oversight of the Baby Bells and deny other companies access to the publicly subsidized infrastructure necessary to compete.

While the Baby Bells benefit, American consumers lose.

Without competition, the Baby Bells can continue to gouge America's ISPs that are fighting to bring affordable, reliable high-speed Internet access to customers. Without accountability, the Baby Bells can continue to provide shoddy service without fear of penance or penalty. The companies certainly have no desire to deploy high-speed Internet technology to rural America when they can continue to focus time and resources on the more lucrative urban marketplace.

Tauzin and Dingell care more about giving lip service to our rural communities than about actually addressing the problem.
But Tauzin and Dingell care more about giving lip service to our rural communities than about actually addressing the problem.

Recently, Tauzin was quoted as saying that unless his bill becomes law, "A small business, library, medical center or university in a rural state likely will not be able to get convenient, economical access to high-speed Internet service and soon could be consigned to the backwaters of 21st century economic development."

Tauzin does not see the $500 million investment in rural America as an opportunity to provide "convenient, economical access to high-speed Internet service." Rather, he appears to view the funding as a threat to his very personal, very narrow legislative agenda.

While the Senate seeks to build a bridge for investment to empower our rural communities, Congressmen Tauzin and Dingell want to build a wall, constructed by the Baby Bells at the expense of future growth and expansion for small businesses, schools, libraries, hospitals and residents of less-populated cities and towns. Rural America deserves better, and Congress should provide it.