Rural Broadband Author Touts Local Ownership of Networks

Christopher Ali wrote a book about the failures of rural broadband policies and leadership last year.

Rural Broadband Author Touts Local Ownership of Networks
Photo of Christopher Ali, pioneers chair of telecommunications at Penn State University

WASHINGTON, November 15, 2022 – Local control of broadband is key to ending disparities in broadband access, argued Christopher Ali, author and pioneers chair of telecommunications at Penn State University, in a live-streamed lecture given Thursday.

Federal regulations have long favored the interests of incumbent providers over those of communities, Ali argued. Ali posited that this policy bias has led to what he termed the “Politics of Good Enough,” through which many communities have been forced to settle for allegedly subpar internet service from entrenched providers who enjoy government protections. Ali panned DSL and satellite broadband, preferring fiber.

Ali wrote a book called Farm Fresh Broadband: The Politics of Rural Connectivity last year, in which he explores the failures of rural broadband policy and leadership over the years in the U.S.

Ali suggested a comprehensive view of locally controlled broadband that included not only government entities – municipalities and counties – but also cooperatives, local service providers, and anchor institutions such as libraries, faith organizations, and community centers.

“Broadband is fundamentally local,” Ali said. “At the end of the day, broadband fundamentally ends in our homes, in our classrooms, in our hands with mobile phones…. We’re seeing communities connect themselves in the absence of private market support and the absence of policy support.”

In addition, Ali voiced support for public–private partnerships, a business model that is widely touted in the industry. In September, Jeff Luong, president of broadband access and adoption initiatives for AT&T, strongly endorsed the public–private model.

The Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program, authorized in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, will send $42.5 billion to the states for broadband infrastructure and related projects. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the subdivision of the Department of Commerce that oversees the BEAD funds, on Thursday stated that it will announce states’ initial allocations by June 30, 2023.

Other federal broadband initiatives for rural America include the Federal Communications Commission’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, the Treasury’s Capital Projects Fund, and the Department of Agriculture’s ReConnect program.

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