Americans in urban and suburban areas take wireless service for granted. This is not so much so for those living in the rural and remote areas of the Washington where service is not always available. There are vast areas without 3G wireless coverage, much less the new 4G LTE technology. And because of the mountainous terrain and greater distances, people in some rural areas also lack reliable, high-speed wired Internet access.
There is some good news. The federal government has just allocated $300 million to bring 3G coverage to unserved areas across the United States. The Federal Communications Commission provided the money from the Connect America fund through an auction in September.
But this funding is a mere drop in the bucket compared to the billions of dollars needed to really make an impact in delivering high-speed Internet access to those people who still need it. You can see for yourself. This map toggles between the areas in the nation with no 3G service today and the areas that will get the service by 2015 as part of the funding awarded. Check out Washington. $300 million spread out over the nation barely registers here.
If you’ve wondered why we’re so vocal about the importance of private sector investment in our nation’s wireless infrastructure, you need look no further. Even massive amounts of taxpayer dollars aren’t nearly enough to deliver the high-speed connections consumers want and need.
Wireless broadband service has the potential to have a significant impact on people’s lives in rural areas where it’s often prohibitively expensive to deploy wire lines across hundreds of empty miles to connect scattered homes, businesses, and ranches. Wireless service is a much more plausible option. Next-generation networks built on Internet Protocol (IP) platforms can carry voice data over the Internet and can transmit enormous amounts of data at lightning fast speeds. An Internet rooted in super-fast IP technology can revolutionize health care, education and transportation—all critical services that rural areas struggle to get the best of.
Beyond life-changing services made possible by fast Internet connections, research shows substantial job growth results as states transition from one generation of wireless network to the next (like 2G to 3G). An economic analysis released this year showed that“the investments and innovation entailed in the transition from 2G to 3G wireless technologies and Internet infrastructure spurred the creation of some 1,585,000 new jobs from April 2007 to June 2011.” During this same time period, the overall private sector trimmed 5.3 million jobs. The study went on to suggest that a rapid transition from 3G to 4G mobile broadband networks would create even more jobs in a shorter time frame.
Given how much is left to do to expand access to high-speed wireless connections, even after the FCC Mobility Fund announcement, the government can supplement its actions by ensuring public policy and regulations encourage private sector investment in the build out of robust communications infrastructure.
Consumers spread out all over America need the networks that the private sector is poised to build. The government can do its part by supplying regulatory certainty to potential investors so that companies know their investment in state-of-the-art IP-network connections are a safe bet.
Tom Gurr is Executive Director of Pacific Technology Alliance , an Issaquah-based, grassroots organization working to increase access to technology.