Small businesses hurt by lack of broadband

Chicago area small businesses are hurt by the lack of broadband. But that is a story that applies to small businesses everywhere in the U.S., but rural businesses suffer the most.

In rural areas, the longer distances make it more difficult for incumbent phone companies to justify the investment, but the need is still there. I was at a county council meeting last week in a community working to develop a broadband master plan for the county, and the incumbent phone company used the same tired arguments against the community effort.

The phone company representative said that it was too expensive to do. This is patent nonsense. It may be more expensive, but it is not "too expensive." We need only look at the existing telephone and electric lines to virtually every rural home and business in the country--mostly provided by well-run and profitable coop ventures. Common sense alone suggests that if we have already run two cables to rural homes and businesses, we can certainly do so again.

What we need are honest phone and cable companies that are willing to say, "Okay, we understand the market has changed. We'll work with any local community that builds an open access infrastructure. This will lower our costs and expand our potential market. And we understand we will have to compete."

That would be honest and forthright, and companies that would embrace an open access communitywide network would, I am convinced, make more money than they are now. Why? Because they would have access to more customers at lower cost, and could offer a wider variety of advanced services.

But it requires corporate honesty first to prosper in that kind of environment. In the meantime, communities and community leaders can't just sit by and watch their local businesses wither away because basic infrastructure is missing. If it were 1960, we have the equivalent, in many communities, of leaders who are saying good water and sewer is not important because the outhouse still works just fine.

Local businesses need affordable high speed broadband to compete in the global Knowledge Economy. And they can't wait forever. What are your leaders and economic developers doing to remedy the situation?

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