Why you should care about a national broadband plan for the U.S.
Wes Rosenbalm is CEO and president of Bristol Virginia Utilities, the first public utility in the United States to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network offering cable, phone and data services.
As we enter a new decade, the Federal Communications Commission is working on a national broadband plan for the United States. You might not know this, but you should. And you might not think it applies to your daily life, but it does.
But how does it apply? What difference does it make? Let’s travel back in time for a moment. Go with me to a Christmas in the mid-1980s, and imagine what was on every kid’s Christmas list then. It was a Commodore 64 home computer! Remember how it had to be run off of the TV screen? Remember the simplistic DOS-like screens? Not much of a computer by today’s standards. But that was my gift then, and I thought it was the greatest thing Santa ever put under the tree for me.
Now let’s fast-forward to 2010. Let’s see how far we have come from the mid-’80s. Encyclopedias? My children now do their homework research online with information that is updated constantly. Report cards? My kids’ grades are posted online for my wife to check at any time.
Our youngest son recently ended up in the emergency room while I was out of town, and my wife sent photos of him to my laptop via her phone. Stop and think about that. Look how far we have come in just 25 years. Life is instant.
Unfortunately, there are too many people in the United States who are being left behind because they don’t have access to true broadband. This is a larger concern in Southwest Virginia than you might think, and Bristol Virginia Utilities and others are committed to making sure we do everything we can to resolve this issue. There are places in our region where high-speed Internet is said to be available, but the bandwidth may not be enough to meet the needs of the businesses and residents in those areas, and the price of the services can be prohibitive.
What the FCC is considering through a national broadband plan not only affects residents and businesses but the future of economic growth and development for our entire nation.
I think Fiber-to-the-Home Council President Joe Savage said it best: “It would not make sense for our national broadband plan to lack precise goals … to ensure our economic leadership in the world.”
I could not agree more. The actions we take today on this issue of broadband availability will shape the future for our children and grandchildren. Will we as a country be left behind or will we lead the way? Fortunately for us, we have leaders in Southwest Virginia who have seen the light — pardon the pun — on our fiber-optic cable. We are leading the way.
One such leader is Rep. Rick Boucher, chairman of the Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet. Boucher sent a letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski recently asking him to “explicitly endorse a goal for minimum broadband speeds of at least 50 megabits downstream and 20 megabits upstream for 80 percent of the population by 2015.”
A lofty goal, but obtainable. How, you ask? Look at what has been done in Southwest Virginia. Look at how entities like BVU and the Cumberland Plateau and Lenowisco planning districts have worked with the Virginia Tobacco Commission, with the state legislative delegation from Southwest Virginia and the Economic Development Administration, with Boucher’s leadership to build out the broadband infrastructure needed. These entities partnered to develop a plan for our region’s future, then worked together to make it a reality. They worked with Boucher, the VTC and many others to build this new future. And now BVU has a network that can meet the lofty goals set by Boucher. But are we done? Absolutely not, and that is the point.
What the FCC does in the next 60 days will be a critical road map for our country. It will chart the course for you and me and, perhaps more importantly, our children. What is it we all want? A better life for ourselves, and an even better one for the next generation. Imagine a world where we can earn almost any degree from any university in the world from our home in Bristol. Imagine telecommuting for a major firm headquartered in New York City while never leaving Abingdon. That is why this matters. It creates access to the tools that will allow all of us to succeed.
What do the next 25 years hold for broadband? Unlimited potential — if a national broadband plan is adopted. That is why you need to care.