Instead of booms and busts brought on by fluctuating demand for everything from gold to coal, rural areas believed that the information age would bring economic stability as educated information workers moved to small communities. No longer would small towns be turned into ghost towns when the ore gave out or commodity prices plunged.
So rural areas
supported deregulation of telecommunications as a way to break up
monopolies and bring in new technology. Former Sen. Larry Pressler
of South Dakota suggested that the century-long depopulation of
rural areas would at last be reversed by the information
Rural areas got what they wanted when
Congress passed the Telecommunications Act of 1996. But here's what
a rural proponent of that law is saying only a year
"Rural areas are more threatened today ...
because the specific regulations needed to implement the
legislation have so badly missed the mark, leaving the needs of
rural America sidelined while huge corporations vie for position in
the metropolitan profit centers."
assessment is in The Information Dirt Road, a report by Club 20, an
organization which represents local governments and businesses in
the rural western third of Colorado.
It lays some
blame on Congress for creating a timetable in the 1996 act that
introduced competition before a fund was set up to guarantee
universal service. But Club 20 aims most of its fire at the Federal
Communications Commission for ignoring the need to subsidize rural
areas with profits made in urban centers, and at the Colorado
Public Utilities Commission, for not moving to balance urban and
rural interests within the state.
report says that besides encouraging the merger of already large
corporations into behemoths, the new rules encourage firms entering
a new area to lease lines from an existing company at very low
rates rather than build new facilities. The cheap lease rates, Club
20's Greg Walcher says, mean that firms won't introduce new
services into rural areas because they won't be able to recover
their investments. And that, Walcher says, could mean that rural
areas will see their telecommunications decline rather than improve
over the next decade.
The Information Dirt Road
fears that telecommunications will evolve the same way air service
evolved: A few big companies will come to dominate the industry,
providing cheap flights between metropolitan areas, but saddling
rural areas with expensive, sporadic, monopolistic service. As an
example, it says that western Colorado has commercial air service
to 10 airports, yet no flights connect any of those airports to
The report is available without
charge from Club 20, Box 550, Grand Junction, CO 81501-0550;
970/242-3264; e-mail: email@example.com.