Chief executives cite obstacles to getting services to rural communities | CraigDailyPress.com

Chief executives cite obstacles to getting services to rural communities

Washington — Regulation and costs may be slowing the pace of offering high-speed Internet access and other advanced telecommunications services to rural communities, say some of the industry's top leaders. — Regulation and costs may be slowing the pace of offering high-speed Internet access and other advanced telecommunications services to rural communities, say some of the industry's top leaders.

— Regulation and costs may be slowing the pace of offering high-speed Internet access and other advanced telecommunications services to rural communities, say some of the industry’s top leaders.

Executives from companies both big and small had the ear of regulators and lawmakers Thursday as they spelled out some of the obstacles they face in serving sparsely populated or remote areas in the nation.

The panel convened by Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota and moderated by the head of the Federal Communications Commission highlighted the so-called ”digital divide” created when high-speed Internet capabilities are not readily available to certain parts of the country.

”If we don’t do this right, we will have a nation of haves and have-nots,” said Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D.

FCC Chairman Bill Kennard urged the chief executives assembled to ”get beyond the rhetoric of blaming the Congress, the FCC or each other” and focus on ways to tackle the problem.

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But industry heads raised both regulation and economic incentives as hurdles they sometimes face in bringing their advanced services to areas with low volumes of customers and large distances to cross.

US West chief Sol Trujillo said current regulatory policy has encouraged business decisions that focus on investing in bigger cities and serving large-business customers.

”If outdated regulatory barriers were removed, we could do more and would do more,” Trujillo said.

”Public policy does effect the level of investment that goes into developing technology,” said Ivan Seidenberg, head of Bell Atlantic. His company and some other regional Bells are seeking to enter the long-distance market a move which they argue will enable them to make greater investments in rural areas at lower costs.

Newer telecommunications businesses say they are willing to expand their reach to underserved areas, but it cannot be cost prohibitive for them to do so.

”We need a little help in making sure the cost of entry is conducive to making investments,” said Robert Knowling of COVAD Communications. ”I’m poised to go anywhere I can if it makes sense.”

Some of the smaller companies described how they have successfully introduced high-speed Internet services even to the sparsely populated areas they serve.

Representatives from the wireless industry say using that technology to deliver Internet services may provide a way around the distance problems posed by offering them over traditional landlines.