Last week I talked about my reasoning for why I think Universal Broadband Access was a more important issue than Net Neutrality. I said that even that the phone network had eventually required Universal Service regulations to make it ubiquitous. I want to provide a bit of history here.
For most folks in my generation, AT&T was the phone company. That was not true at the time but it was for most people in the United States. What was true was that some communities did not get serviced in a timely fashion by AT&T and decided to create their own company or were serviced by other providers to build networks. Example of this would be (and these are old names) Rochester Telephone, United Telecom, and GTE. In fact, there were 1,100 or 1,200 local phone companies in the United States going back over 75 years. The vast majority of them served rural towns in the Western half of the United States. As a counter-example, Rochester Telephone served the Rochester, New York area and is now part of Frontier Communications. United Telecom ran Las Vegas and eventually became part of Sprint Local Telephone Division and is now part of Centurylink.
Many of the smaller companies still exist. Examples might be Valley Telephone in Texas or Consolidated Communication in many places in the US. Some of these companies were and are community based. They were started by the town and still really support only one town or a few towns in an area. These companies may have a few hundred or a few 10s of thousands of phone lines. There are much smaller group (like Consolidated) that are collections of these smaller companies and have 100s of thousands of phone lines. But essentially the smaller companies started because AT&T did not reach out to lots of small, out of the way communities and deliver phone service. For a long time, phone service was not mandatory so AT&T only went where it would make the most money.
In order to keep prices low for rural Americans, the US created the Universal Service Fund to help make these remote phone lines less costly to operate. I recall one line that we had that supported a cabin 80 miles from the Central Office. Imagine that line breaking and having to drive sometimes hours to figure out what was wrong to repair it.
My point in Broadband is that we have reached this kind of penetration. The large providers see no gain in expanding their broadband footprint compared to other possible investments. Small companies have great broadband networks, but very rural subscribers have few, if any options. By making Broadband a Universal Service then all Americans would get Broadband Service.
Anyway, think about the choices we have in front of us!
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