Op-Ed: High Speed Broadband Critical to State Economy
Over the last few decades, technology has revolutionized the way that people interact with one another. Thanks to the advancements in wireless technology, businesspeople armed with smart phones can quickly download documents, stream video and conduct reliable conference calls. At the same time, families are also taking advantage of broadband technology to manage their finances, communicate with family and friends, and access educational and health care resources and information.
As Vice Chairman of the NH Labor Committee, I have had the opportunity to see the benefit wireless communications is having on economic development in our state. Businesses are using technology to stay competitive in the global marketplace, while workers are using technology to become more marketable to employers and to identify job opportunities.
Surprisingly, even though staying connected is virtually a necessity in our modern society, nearly twenty percent of New Hampshire residents do not have access to a high-speed broadband service. A small number of residents simply can’t get access at all because they live in isolated rural areas where coverage is unavailable or unreliable. In other cases, however, citizens live in areas with high speed broadband coverage but lack the resources or the digital awareness needed to take advantage of the powerful technologies that are changing the world around them.
If we want to do something about expanding access to wireless technology, we also have to make sure that wireless networks have the capacity needed to keep up with growing consumer demand for data. According to one high tech CEO, there may be as many as 50 billion wireless devices in use by 2020. That level of usage is going to put a lot of pressure on our nation’s telecommunication system as existing wireless networks are simply not prepared to handle that level of traffic.
In this increasingly competitive economic environment, we cannot afford to fall behind when it comes to broadband access and network capacity. Indeed, a Brookings Institute study found that every one percentage point increase in broadband penetration is associated with 0.2-0.3% higher employment in a state. With the future of our economy at stake, we need to make sure that our state’s telecommunications infrastructure can keep up with consumer demand.
The good news is that our state is taking steps to address the issues of broadband access and capacity. In 2008, the Telecommunications Advisory Board (TAB) published a Broadband Action Plan which has helped guide state policy. Among other recommendations, the action plan emphasizes that New Hampshire needs to have “a consistent and sustainable framework” in place to maintain adequate levels of broadband service.
One way to create the workable frameworks capable of meeting our telecommunications needs into the future is to unleash the forces of entrepreneurship and innovation that are largely responsible for the broadband revolution we are now experiencing.
The AT&T/T-Mobile merger is a great example of how private sector initiatives can help states address issues of access and capacity. AT&T’s merger proposal includes a plan to invest more than eight billion in additional infrastructure spending over seven years which will improve wireless technology, connectivity and innovation. This massive investment will extend access to AT&T’s 4G LTE network to over 97% of the population, while also helping to address network capacity issues by eliminating redundancies and increasing network efficiency.
It is absolutely essential that businesses and citizens in our state have access to the high-speed broadband networks which will allow them to compete and win in our highly competitive and increasingly global economy. To accomplish this, we will need leadership and vision from public and private sector leaders who recognize that having a first-class telecommunications infrastructure is an economic necessity.
The broadband revolution has arrived. New Hampshire cannot afford to be left behind.