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Monday, October 8, 2012

Thad Nation: Change is coming in the telecommunications industry


By Thad Nation
Flip the switch on the wall, your lights will go on. Turn on to the freeway, and you're using a safe, efficient means to get somewhere. When it starts to get cold, a press of a button or a twist of a dial means that our homes will become comfortably warm.

When the facets of our nation's infrastructure are maintained, most people just rely on them without giving them too much thought. But we have another key infrastructure system in place that will soon reach its technological limit: The means in which we are able to communicate with each other.

While many of us think of infrastructure in terms of roads and railways, now that we are well into an age of information, our communication infrastructure must now evolve.

Often, such progress is not only wanted, but necessary as old technology reaches its absolute usable limit. We've seen this cycle occur throughout our country's history, from the benefits of electricity on rural communities; the replacement of telegraph with telephone; the mechanization that spurred our growth through the Industrial Revolution.

We are rapidly reaching the point where our existing communications technology has reached its full capacity, and change will need to happen. We are moving swiftly away from a reliance on analog communications to broadband-based, IP communication strategies.

A similar situation occurred a few years ago when television broadcasters made the switch from traditional analog to digital broadcasting. The core television broadcasts were essentially the same. What changed, and what necessitated the purchase of a new television, was the technology used to broadcast those channels.

This recent change also provides us with a lesson that we can apply to our communications infrastructure: We must ensure that barriers to this improvement are minimized and that unnecessary or additional regulation is discouraged.

History shows us that implementation of broad technological advancements are what actually jumpstart our nation's economy. Broadband is simply the latest, significant technology transition, and one that needs to happen to propel our economy forward. The time is now for us to be investing in this kind of critical infrastructure. And that is exactly how we need to see it - a communications infrastructure as necessary as roads or bridges or railways.

Broadband infrastructure is a superhighway for American businesses to reach out into the world; a conduit that brings in educational opportunities for communities that currently have limited access; and a lifesaver for expanded medical services through telemedicine applications.

This vital infrastructure is our pathway to prosperity out of the second greatest economic depression in history. This is how we can grow jobs and make our communities stronger and more robust. The key is re-thinking the way we understand what constitutes our vital, national infrastructure, and that new elements such as broadband must be added.

Here in Wisconsin, we have the ability to take the lead on these efforts, to show other states, how it can be done successfully.

It's critical we do everything we can to make sure every corner of Wisconsin is wired. How? Through investment in private infrastructure that will transform the archaic, outdated copper telephone network into a state-of-the art digital network that can create a 21st century economy for the state of Wisconsin.

We have the potential to lead the nation. The Public Service Commission and the LinkWISCONSIN Alliance has been drafting a Wisconsin Broadband Playbook and seeking input on how to best address challenges and opportunities for improving broadband availability, adoption rates and applications.

The Playbook addresses four specific areas: Creating broadband provider incentives to invest in Wisconsin; reducing barriers to broadband investment; leveraging federal and state dollars; and providing education, awareness and personnel to support broadband development our state's communities.

These are strong first steps, and Wired Wisconsin applauds these initiatives. This is not just about ideas, it's about taking the steps to encourage private investment and eliminate any barriers to make necessary broadband infrastructure a reality for our state.

Wisconsin is headed in the right direction, but there is still more to be done. We must encourage all efforts that propel these development efforts forward.

-- Nation is the executive director of Wired Wisconsin.

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