To the Editor:
In your article about Congressman Neal’s town hall, I was quoted as having asked whether he thought broadband ought to be classified as a utility. In fact, the FCC classified broadband as such in 2015, and in 2016, the D.C. Court of Appeals affirmed this decision. I was asking not IF high-speed broadband should be treated as a utility, but about the consequences of our having done so.
Broadband is the single most powerful tool we have for making America great again. It’s what rural America needs to pay our bills. Yet we can’t wire ourselves, and it’s unreasonable to expect big towns with low density to do this. The 1,300 taxpayers of New Marlborough, which is the 2nd largest town – by square miles — in the Berkshires, are facing a bond of about $5 million for expensive, corporate-monopoly high-speed Internet service with poor customer service, prohibitive extra costs for long driveways, and wiring we may not even own.
To achieve real economic stimulation, Congress must finish wiring America. It took this approach when it passed the wildly successful Rural Electrification Act of 1936. This year, Jared Huffman (D-CA) introduced H.R. 800, an amendment to that act.
The New Deal Rural Electrification Act of 2017 establishes a rural broadband office within the Department of Agriculture (USDA) and authorizes new grants and loans for developing broadband in rural, underserved areas. It would pull all rural, broadband-related funding currently administered by the Rural Utilities Services into a new Office of Rural Broadband Initiatives — and, authorize the USDA to provide outright grants, in addition to loans and loan guarantees currently permitted, for the construction, improvement or acquisition of broadband systems. It would also prioritize multi-jurisdictional projects like Wired West.
I encourage all Berkshires residents who think we need broadband, regardless of whether they’re old enough to vote, to contact Congressman Neal’s office at (413) 785-0325. Ask him not just to declare his support for the New Deal Rural Electrification Act, but to fight like hell for it.
The writer is the Democratic Town Chair.