Why Lobbyists Are Fighting to Bar Rural Americans from Broadband Access

Special interests stand in the way of a free-market solution to high-speed internet inequality

Last month, Microsoft President Brad Smith made history. In a speech that launched the Rural Airband Initiative, he proudly announced that his company came up with the first feasible, cost-effective solution to combating the rural broadband gap, which affects approximately 23.4 million rural residents today.

It goes without saying that in this era, not having internet connectivity compromises your job prospects, education, and even the general accessibility of information. But since the internet’s creation, a huge chunk of the American population has been left behind.

Through utilizing TV white spaces — blank TV channels with powerful, 600 MHz range — mixed with a few other technologies, Microsoft is aiming to close this gap. The company is asking if three channels can be reserved for this purpose. All the FCC needs to do is get out of the way and allow the free market to work its magic, uniting the country in the high-speed cyber world for the very first time.

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Although this is a Microsoft-launched project, it is a not-for-profit venture. These white spaces will be available for public use and Smith’s company will even serve as a “catalyst for the marketplace” by licensing its few dozen patents on this issue royalty-free. Why? Because the company wants the best and brightest companies in the country to work together side by side until this rural broadband gap is closed once and for all.

Thus far, Congress has responded favorably to this proposal. This week, Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) issued a letter to the FCC, signed by over 40 other House lawmakers, supporting the use of white spaces for this purpose. Other notable signers of the letter included House Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) and Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), Peter Welch (D-Vt.), Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.), and Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.).

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This plan is bipartisan because those who have the objective of bettering the lives of everyday Americans have no reason to not support it. But as with all proposals in Washington, there are special-interest groups lobbying against it. In this case, however, it’s billionaire industries — primarily the broadcast industry — waging an all-out PR battle against its implementation.

Why are broadcasters railing against this public-use plan? Because they want the white spaces all to themselves. Currently, these broadcasters already control 92 percent of the channels and have $1.75 billion in government support, with possibly $350 million more coming. They fear that using white spaces for broadband will minimize or interfere with their government-funded operation. These groups don’t really have any legitimate concerns against the bill, so they’re having their expensive consultants orchestrate fake-news talking points to scare legislatures away from supporting the bill.

One of the chief talking points these skeptics are peddling is that white spaces’ use for internet services already has a failed history. This couldn’t be further from the truth. There has been a lag in using white spaces for this purpose, not because of limited capability but because of government bureaucracy. Historically, there has always been a lag between initial FCC spectrum authorization and first-certified product. It took 13 years for cellphones, 14 years for Wi-Fi, and — thus far — nine years for white spaces.

Although it’s taken a while for this idea to receive government approval, that’s not to say that white spaces don’t already have a proven track record of providing internet. Over the past 15 years, Microsoft has worked on white spaces in 20 countries, connecting over 185,000 people. The results have been remarkable, greatly improving foreign students’ test scores and increasing everyone’s access to health care. The hope is that government will get out of the way so the same can happen in the United States.

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The other major falsehood the broadcasters are spouting is that Microsoft’s plan will be harmful to rural Low-Power Television (LPTV) providers. This is pure fiction. Extensive research has shown that there is plenty of room on the dial, and the proposed plan even leaves LPTV and broadband with empty channels so they can continue expanding. And it’s important to remember that the FCC designated this LPTV spectrum for public use — not just for one industry. Those who are living in rural America know that growing broadband supply is just as important — if not more important — than growing the number of LPTV stations. Having the FCC wave its regulatory wand to prevent rural Americans from receiving internet connection would be unfounded.

In the fight over white spaces, it’s easy to separate the good guys from the special interests. The good guys want to increase American opportunity by better connecting the country; the special interests want the government to prevent it to pad their bottom lines. So far, much of Congress appears to be on the right side of this issue. Here’s to hoping that it stays that way — and our representatives don’t succumb to the lobbyists that will inevitably be knocking on their doors in the very near future. The American people are counting on them to do the right thing.

Megan Barth is the founder and proprietor of ReaganBabe.com and a nationally recognized political commentator. She is a weekly cohost for WAR-The Wayne Allyn Root Show out of Las Vegas, Nevada, and has appeared on Headline News CNN, NewsMax TV, One America News Network, The Tipping Point with Liz Wheeler, America Trends with Dr. Gina, and The Blaze Radio; she has regular weekly appearances on several nationally syndicated radio shows.

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