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No connection for broadband?

By National Grange President Ed Luttrell for The Cleveland County Star, NC (11/22/10)

  NOVEMBER 25, 2010 --

Last week, the National Grange of the Order of the Patrons of Husbandry met in Charlotte to discuss our accomplishments from 2010, as well as our aims for 2011. One issue that remains at the forefront of our conversations remains the importance of fostering a sense of community that enables economic development in rural America.

To that end, the widespread deployment of broadband, even to remote, rural areas, over the last decade has been extraordinary. Can our country’s broadband footprint grow larger? Of course it can, as evidenced by the support dedicated towards expanding broadband deployment in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

However, while the federal government is encouraging broadband deployment, efforts are simultaneously under way by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that would impede broadband growth and put jobs reliant on the broadband sector in jeopardy.

We have reviewed the programs in place to promote broadband deployment, and have worked with the Federal Communications Commission to develop the National Broadband Plan — a blueprint to ensure every American has access to a high-speed Internet connection. For rural communities, this is an imperative. It allows for agriculture to monitor weather patterns and commodity prices, fosters improvement in schools with access to state of the art resources, and allows families to seek medical care without a long, often expensive journal.

This is why the membership of the National Grange is so perplexed when the Commission continues to debate net neutrality — despite the clear losses of investment and jobs associated with the proposed net neutrality regulations.

The proof is in the pudding. Many research institutes, such as the Phoenix Center for Political and Economic Studies have found a causal relationship between capital expenditures and jobs in the Information sector. They concluded, “A 10 percent negative shock to expenditures in the information sector results in an average loss of about 130,000 information-sector jobs per year in the ensuing five years. Including indirect jobs, these job losses could be as high as 327,600 jobs.”

The amount of American jobs intertwined with broadband is significant. Of course there are the obvious occupations of those who are directly employed within the broadband industry itself. But beyond that, broadband touches a variety of professions such as health care, energy and education.

On July 2, President Obama announced nearly $800 million in loans and grants for the build-out of broadband networks to reach homes, schools and hospitals. The grants and loans will be matched by another $200 million in private investment, and is part of the president’s roughly $800 billion federal stimulus package. President Obama said the new infrastructure projects will directly create 5,000 jobs and help spur economic development in some of the nation’s hardest-hit communities.

Thus, the president acknowledges the direct correlation of broadband deployment and the creation of jobs. What is equally clear is that the inverse is true. Instability in the broadband sector stands to halt job growth.

Does our country need government regulations in the broadband sector or do our communities need high-paying jobs? The answer is clear and the FCC’s dogged determination to regulate the success of the Internet is a step in the wrong direction.

Ed Luttrell is president of the National Grange (www.nationalgrange.org), an agricultural organization with grassroots units in 40 states. Its members provide service to agriculture and rural areas on issue, including economic development and education.


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