The Federal Communications Commission has been eyeballing a fund traditionally earmarked for rural phone service as a way to fund rural broadband. Most Americans that have a phone pay to fund this rural telephone program through the Universal Service Fund, or USF. When you pay your bill you pay a small stipend into this fund, which the government then uses (or is at least supposed to) towards building phone systems in wildly rural areas.
A new plan announced by the FCC yesterday would refocus the fund towards building rural broadband Internet access instead. Besides connecting these citizens to the rest of the world, the FCC thinks this would also give them opportunities to find jobs, and communicate using modern technologies such as Skype or other web-based VOIP technology.
"We have a system that's broken, frankly and if we don't do this job right, we could end up -- even though we have this wonderful new technology -- with a greater gap than we have right now," said FCC commissioner Michael Copps. "We could put the affluent urban neighborhoods farther ahead and the rural isolated communities farther behind than they are now and that would be a real tragedy when you have this technology that can create opportunity and bridge gaps and bring people together and allow it not to serve those noble purposes."
Copps thinks doing this will be a benefit to everyone because "you get a country that's better informed, better connected, better educated, more competitive, creating jobs, needing less in the way of subsidy or help from the rest of America."
"There's an aspect of this broadband that doesn't get talked about enough but it has to do with our civic dialogue, our media and news and information. Broadband has a tremendous capacity to inform and to enlighten. If we go about our job right, maybe we can pave the next town square of democracy with broadband bricks, but that's going to take a lot of work."
Of course the real benefit to doing this isn't even mentioned by Copps; we don't waste our money on old technology. Why provide just phone infrastructure when we can provide technology that can be used to provide, phone, internet, and entertainment services? We're going to end up spending money on broadband anyway, so why not just do it right the first time?
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