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Spectrum as Infrastructure: Connecting Rural America

The rural broadband gap remains stubbornly wide despite the billions of dollars in federal subsidies paid out to large internet service providers.

More than 15 million Americans in rural and Tribal areas still lack access to fixed (home) broadband at the 25/3 megabits per second speeds that meet the minimum definition of “broadband” service adopted by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). In comparison, 98 percent of Americans living in urban areas have access to high-speed fixed broadband. A big barrier to expanding high-speed broadband, of course, is the difficulty of deploying infrastructure. 

This rural broadband gap puts millions of families at a severe disadvantage when it comes to equal opportunities in business, education, healthcare, government services, and civic participation. A lack of affordable high-speed broadband perpetuates inequality overall, since one of many adverse impacts is a “homework gap” that afflicts roughly 12 million school children lacking the broadband at home they need to complete homework assignments. 

What is the most cost-effective way for the FCC to boost rural broadband? There are two general approaches: with wires (fiber) and without (fixed wireless). Fiber is very costly in low-density areas. There is a growing recognition that “wireless fiber”–otherwise known as fixed wireless access–can provide broadband at high capacity (100/10 Mbps or better), or over long distances to remote locations, at a fraction of the cost of trenching fiber. 

The most promising federal investment in infrastructure for rural broadband may be the allocation of unused spectrum for shared use by rural wireless internet providers, as well as by schools, libraries, and any entity willing to make use of it and deploy. 

Allocating more prime spectrum for rural broadband requires no increase in government spending, yet it would lower the cost for every internet provider and for millions of consumers. 

Please join us for a lively discussion of how the FCC can use spectrum policy to facilitate rural broadband deployment. 

Follow the conversation online using #BuildingRuralBroadband and following @OTI

Lunch will be served. 

Confirmed speakers include: 

Kelsey Guyselman
Policy Advisor, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy 

Whitney Kimball Coe@RuralStrategies 
Director of National Programs, Center for Rural Strategies 

Elizabeth Bowles@Bowleel 
Chair, FCC Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee (BDAC) 
CEO, Aristotle Inc. 

Claude Aiken@ctaiken 
President & CEO, Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISPA) 

Paula Boyd@MicrosoftIPC 
Senior Director of Government & Regulatory Affairs, Microsoft 

Bob Nichols 
CEO, Declaration Networks 

Michael Calabrese@MCalabreseNAF 
Director, Wireless Future Project, New America