More than 60 percent of Missourians do not have access to high-speed broadband internet. The majority of them live in rural areas.
Missouri’s two Senators are offering different approaches to bringing increased broadband access to those communities.
Both Republican Roy Blunt and Democrat Claire McCaskill addressed the issue Thursday at the State Fair in Sedalia. Blunt favors repealing net neutrality as a part of the solution.
Net neutrality is a concept adopted under the Obama administration in which Internet service providers (ISPs) must treat all data it transmits equally. The providers are not currently allowed to discriminate or charge different fees for access to high speed delivery.
The idea to do away with net neutrality has been championed by new Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai, an appointee under the Trump administration. The plan would let ISPs charge content providers such as Netflix to deliver data to customers through an “internet fast lane”.
Blunt contends the new revenue stream would encourage ISPs to build out broadband infrastructure into rural areas that are otherwise not profitable. “The more you open up the economic potential for the service that somebody is putting in, the more likely they are going to put the service in” said Blunt.
Broadband providers such as AT&T, Verizon and Comcast contend that allowing them to profit through a tiered delivery of content will enable them to invest in infrastructure build out.
There’s been a building unity among Missouri Republicans to support the elimination of net neutrality. Lieutenant Governor Mike Parson agrees with Blunt that loosening regulations on ISPs would give them motivation to build out broadband access.
“That’s going to allow us to have quicker access to those availabilities for the state of Missouri, rural Missouri, which has always been a problem” said Parson during a recent interview with Missourinet.
Net neutrality defenders contend it prevents broadband suppliers from blocking or discriminating against any content that rides over their networks.
Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill agrees. She thinks net neutrality must be preserved in order to keep high speed access on a level playing field.
“I think there’s other ways that we can find the resources to get internet access into rural areas without making the internet unfair” McCaskill said.
Internet companies in favor of keeping the rules in place include Netflix, Facebook and Twitter.
McCaskill favors a new program announced earlier this month by the FCC. It calls for the federal agency to begin an auction in 2018 that will provide nearly $2 billion over 10 years specifically to expand high-speed Internet access in rural areas.
According to McCaskill, utility co-ops that serve a large swath of out-state Missouri would be empowered to provide broadband service. “This auction that’s coming up is an opportunity for rural co-ops to access funds that would allow a build out of fiber broadband all across rural Missouri.”
Blunt says FCC Chairman Pai’s plan to do away with net neutrality will complete the process of bringing high speed internet to rural areas. “There are two ways to look at this. I think the new chairman’s way to look at this is much more likely to encourage rural broadband than the chairman that he replaced.”
Blunt and McCaskill made their comments while appearing at separate events the state fair in Sedalia Thursday.