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Rural America: The Forefront of Innovation | Commentary

The productivity and growth of rural America are essential to the overall economic well-being and prosperity of our country. These regions are critical to our sustainability and should not be neglected when considering policies that promote job creation, investment and innovation. While Ohio’s 5th District boasts more than 60,000 manufacturing jobs, it is also the largest agricultural district in the state. Ensuring our rural areas are accounted for, especially when examining ways to tap our country’s technological potential, must be a top priority.

Maintaining an open, free and accessible Internet is currently at the forefront of policy discussions facing Congress. Over the past 20 years, the Internet has become a platform for job creation, education, job skills training, business development and health care. It has also enabled us to achieve efficiencies in agriculture, energy, transportation, manufacturing and many other sectors of the economy. Expanding access to the Internet, not deterring it, is critical to this continued advancement and growth.

Unfortunately, there are efforts to do just the opposite. The Federal Communications Commission’s proposed regulations on broadband Internet access would impose costly government mandates that were designed for the monopoly telephone system of the 1930s — long before the Internet ever existed. If adopted, these regulations will obstruct ongoing efforts to spread broadband access to rural communities and deepen the economic divide between rural and non-rural areas.

To guard against this potential bureaucratic interference and preserve the critical technological gains we’ve made in rural America, I recently introduced legislation to keep the Internet open to consumers, businesses and entrepreneurs, and free from government regulation. By doing so, broadband service providers will continue to be incentivized to invest in rural America and deploy infrastructure to these hard-to-reach areas that support the innovative applications and services that make so many efficiencies and conveniences possible today.

Since its infancy, broadband service has remained relatively free from government control and Americans, rural and non-rural, have enjoyed open access to the Internet. As a result, Internet providers have made more than $1 trillion in investments in broadband infrastructure since 1996, helping to support almost 11 million jobs.

While broadband availability in rural areas still lags behind non-rural areas, gains continue to be made, as more than three-fourths of all rural areas in America have access to robust broadband service and more than 80 percent of rural residents have access to some of the nation’s fastest broadband download speeds. The number of Americans without any access to broadband service also continues to decline. In the past 13 years, home broadband adoption has grown from 3 percent of all American adults age 18 and older to 70 percent. It took the telephone 76 years to reach this level of penetration, and we can only expect these unprecedented trends to continue as long as the Internet remains unfettered by government regulation.

At a time when the Internet is a thriving job creation engine that is driving productivity and economic growth it is reckless to suggest, let alone adopt, policies that would disrupt its success. The FCC’s proposed regulations would divert precious resources from broadband deployment and network upgrades to regulatory compliance, likely delaying the availability of broadband and all the innovative applications and services it brings with it to rural America. This is something that Americans simply cannot afford. Now more than ever, the economic success of rural America depends on continued investment into robust broadband networks, and keeping the Internet free and open is critical to the United States’ ability to remain the leader in the 21st century global digital economy.

Rep. Bob Latta is a Republican from Ohio.

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