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Treating Internet as a Utility Called Step Forward for Rural Kentucky

PHOTO: The FCC chairman proposes treating the Internet like a utility, a move that advocates say could deliver access to rural Kentuckians who cannot get service. Photo by Greg Stotelmyer.
PHOTO: The FCC chairman proposes treating the Internet like a utility, a move that advocates say could deliver access to rural Kentuckians who cannot get service. Photo by Greg Stotelmyer.
February 5, 2015

WHITESBURG, Ky. - The head of the Federal Communications Commission says the Internet should be treated like telephone service, a utility everyone is guaranteed access to.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler calls his proposal "the strongest open Internet protections ever proposed by the FCC." Mimi Pickering is an Appalshop media producer in Whitesburg, a town situated in broadband-starved eastern Kentucky.

"For us it's just even a first step of being able to get on the Internet lanes, let alone the fast lane," Pickering says.

Pickering is a member of the National Rural Assembly Broadband Working Group.

She says nearly one out of every four households in Kentucky does not have access to the Internet, most of them in rural parts of the state. She says that's not acceptable.

"We can't compete in the state, national, international market with that kind of reality," says Pickering. "It's just proven over and over that the big telecommunications companies are not going to invest in rural areas and poor communities."

Pickering says that's why reclassifying the Internet is so important because it would require providers to build out in rural places.

Whitney Kimball Coe, program associate with the Center for Rural Strategies, says of the 19 million Americans who don't have Internet access, more than 14 million are rural Americans, so reclassifying ...

"Would really close that digital divide that exists between rural and urban" she says. "It would also allow the FCC to regulate the Internet that would make sure that we have service, that rural areas have service"

But, opponents argue the proposal is overreaching and would stifle investment and customer choice. The five-member commission is scheduled to vote on the proposed rules on Feb. 26.

Greg Stotelmyer , Public News Service - KY