The Journal Gazette
Saturday, October 28, 2017 1:00 am

Getting country connected

Trade group CEO says regulations limit online access

BRIAN FRANCISCO | The Journal Gazette

Internet providers need “parity and clarity” from lawmakers if they are to extend broadband service across the country, according to the leader of a national telecommunications trade association.

About 13 million Americans who live in rural areas lack access to high-speed internet service.

“Connecting the country we know is no technical impossibility. It is a limitation imposed by policy, by a lack of adequate, collective willpower” by federal, state and local governments, Jonathan Spalter, president and CEO of USTelecom, said this week in Fort Wayne.

“Success of a broadband project in America, our global competitiveness as a nation, will rely on standardizing these approaches. ... We have to change the direction towards having a one-size-fits-all approach,” Spalter said.

The industry seeks “a modern policy framework that puts broadband first and delivers parity and clarity for our businesses,” he said. USTelecom members include huge companies such as AT&T, Oracle and Verizon and smaller businesses such as Indiana's Monon Telephone and Smithville Fiber.

Spalter was among the speakers Thursday at the Great Lakes Technology Showcase at Grand Wayne Center. About 400 people from Indiana, Ohio and Michigan attended the two-day conference, sponsored by telecommunications associations in the three states.

Spalter, who was associate director of the U.S. Information Agency during President Bill Clinton's administration and a spokesman and speechwriter for Vice President Al Gore, likened the array of federal, state and municipal rules and laws affecting the internet to “software patches.” He contrasted this regulatory hodgepodge to public-private cybersecurity efforts that stress cooperation and collaboration.

Cybersecurity authorities “know that scattered rules and regulations, let alone a disparate patchwork of them across the country, cannot hope to keep pace. So we work together,” he said. “Just imagine if we could do the same – play offense on rural broadband. Rural America has the most to gain from modern, constructive broadband policies.”

He said American commerce, education, health care and public safety depend on broadband growth.

John Koppin, president of the Indiana Broadband and Technology Association, told Spalter that state technology companies are “begging for connectivity” but “barriers that are placed by government tend to be in the way.”

Spalter called for “a common-standard template approach” to internet regulations. Any streamlined policy should support a free and open internet with privacy protections for users, he said.

He seemed confident that broadband service will receive a federal funding boost after Congress and the White House revamp the income tax code and turn their attention to upgrading the nation's infrastructure. He said broadband expansion has bipartisan support and that President Donald Trump “is right there with us.” 

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