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FCC Champions Rural Use of Satellites

By | February 2, 2004

      The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) deserves high praise for holding a series of informative panel discussions last Tuesday that highlighted the ways satellites can be used to help rural Americans. Federal agencies often are the punching bags for lawmakers who decry a lack of vigilance by regulators in serving the public.

      In this instance, the FCC is showing members of Congress, the press and anyone else who is paying attention that the 25 percent of the U.S. population who live in rural areas are an ideal audience for satellite services. The full-day event featured panel discussions with strong content about farming and agricultural services, critical public safety activities, telemedicine and education services, as well as Internet access and mass media entertainment services.

      The general theme of those who spoke last week was that many organizations are attempting to serve the needs of people in rural areas, but much remains to be done, particularly in providing affordable broadband services.

      Rural Roots

      FCC Commissioner Kevin Martin, who moderated a panel discussion about using satellites for public safety, grew up in a rural area of North Carolina. He told SATELLITE NEWS in an exclusive interview that he understands the need for people outside cities to have access to advanced communications.

      “The ability to communicate can be important from a community standpoint, but it also is important for public safety and life-saving services,” Martin said.

      The initiative to hold the one-day forum on the rural use of satellite services was championed by FCC International Bureau Chief Don Abelson and Satellite Policy Branch Chief Tom Tycz. At the conclusion of the event, Tycz said he would like to see it become an annual event. That kind of a commitment to monitor progress in erasing the digital divide is a great starting point.

      However, the benefit of this year’s first-of-its-kind event could be enhanced considerably next year with strong attendance from key lawmakers and staff members from Capitol Hill who can lend further support by passing legislation to help rural communities. Weak attendance last Tuesday from Hill staffers could be blamed partly on bad weather. A severe ice storm hit Washington the day of the event, following on the heels of snow the previous day. Several speakers showed their strong commitment by arranging to give presentations directly from their offices out of town when the harsh weather conditions prevented them from attending in person.

      Speakers included top officials from the Satellite Industry Association, the Satellite Broadcasting and Communications Association (SBCA), the Department of Agriculture, the National Rural and Telecommunications Cooperative (NRTC), as well as satellite companies.

      Another good move by the FCC was to hold a concurrent exhibit featuring satellite technology demonstrations by operators, resellers, and service providers. Technology exhibitors ranged from large companies to small ones.

      Strong Support

      Also impressive was the participation of FCC Chairman Michael Powell, as well as Commissioners Martin, Michael Copps, Kathleen Abernathy, and Jonathan Adelstein.

      In his opening remarks, Powell described satellite as the “one communications technology” that is capable of reaching each and every single American, in every spot of the country, no matter how rural or remotely located.

      With rural Americans generally ignored by DSL and cable modem services, their only hope for broadband services is through satellites. The FCC understands this and is trying to bridge the gap. Congress needs to go beyond its previous efforts and support the rollout of new broadband services to eradicate the digital divide.

      –Paul Dykewicz

      (Don Abelson, FCC, 202/418-0437; Michael Powell, FCC, 202/418-1000; Kevin Martin, FCC, 202/418-2100)

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