The internet is one of the world’s greatest innovations. Through new connected technology, the internet has powered new advancements in nearly every facet of our daily lives – how we live, work and play. From agriculture to defense to transportation, there is hardly an industry in the world that hasn’t been changed by the internet. As a result, our country has experienced unprecedented economic and job growth.
But in Alaska, many residents are still waiting on these technological advancements to become a reality. Today, 20 percent of Alaskans do not have access to broadband coverage. For rural Alaska, the digital divide is even greater. There are over 200,000 residents living in rural areas of the state, but access to affordable, high-quality broadband is still unavailable for many.
Our state ranks last in the nation in percent of its school districts that meet the minimum internet speed as set by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). While students in the Lower 48 have the luxury of accessing information on the internet in a matter of seconds, nearly 60,000 Alaska students do not have the bandwidth needed to incorporate technology into the classroom.
The good news is that progress is on the horizon. This is due in large part to the FCC rolling back Obama-era regulations in 2017. With less burdensome government regulations, internet service providers (ISPs) now have more freedom and incentive to invest in expanded broadband infrastructure.
We’re already seeing this come to fruition in the Last Frontier. Earlier this year, telecom companies GCI and Ericsson announced they were teaming up to launch the first 5G network in Anchorage. This nearly $30 million project will increase internet speeds and connectivity to the internet citywide. With 5G technology, Alaska can tap more heavily into innovations like telehealth and distance learning in education – two things that could dramatically help Alaskans all over the state.
But now lawmakers in Washington are posing a threat to Alaska’s access to faster and better broadband. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her fellow liberals in Congress want to reinstate the same stifling government regulations imposed in 2015 by redefining “net neutrality.” This redefinition is a blatant overreach of our government and would severely slow down our progress by turning the internet into a government-run public utility.
The Obama-era regulations imposed on the internet in 2015 were disastrous. According to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, they cost the country hundreds of thousands of jobs and tens of billions of dollars in broadband infrastructure investment. The fundamental key to economic growth and job creation is limited government intervention. This is the foundation of a free-market economy and why capitalism works. If net neutrality is reinstated, ISPs will be less inclined to invest their resources in building new broadband infrastructure, leaving Alaskans stuck with slower internet speeds, fewer jobs and diminished economic growth.
Alaskans agree that every American should have access to a fair and open internet – and there should be laws in place that protect consumers. But rehashing the net neutrality debate is counterproductive and dangerous. Liberals in places like San Francisco and New York don’t understand the impact that burdensome government regulations will have on places like Alaska and other areas around the country who are heavily impacted by the digital divide. The last thing we need is for Congress to politicize, tamper with and overregulate the internet.
Alaska is finally on the cusp of new innovations that will address our technological challenges. With expanded broadband investment, our schools will be more competitive and our students will be better prepared for the job market. Residents in remote areas of the state will be able to access high quality health care at their fingertips rather than be forced to travel far from home to see a doctor. 5G technology can expand to cities beyond Anchorage.
The internet is faster and easier to use than ever before. In fact, the internet has flourished precisely because Washington, D.C., has played a limited role in its evolution. We cannot afford to let the liberals in Congress screw it up. Alaska representatives need to protect innovation and economic growth in the Last Frontier by rejecting government overregulation of the internet.
Melodie Bowler is the associate director at the Alaska Policy Forum. Previously, she was a small business owner in California until, she says, the taxes and regulations drove her to seek refuge and freedom in the Last Frontier.
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