Opponents of Thursday’s FCC decision to roll back net neutrality rules are concerned about the effect on broadband internet access, especially in rural areas. Bringing broadband to these areas can be expensive.
For the last couple years, the FCC had regulated the internet as a utility. Now, that’s changed and some fear providers won’t have the incentive to bring better access to rural areas.
One solution could be open access networks.
These supply the infrastructure for broadband internet; things like fiber are laid down. Then, internet service providers use that space to bring internet to often underserved, rural areas.
Southern Tier Network is one such operation. It’s a non-profit located in Corning whose partners include Chemung, Schuyler and Steuben Counties.
The infrastructure is open to all providers, but it’s mostly used by smaller, more regional companies. It’s a big help to their bottomline and that way they can compete against large corporations.
“The AT&T won’t look at an open access model like us,” said Steve Manning, CEO of Southern Tier Network. “But a Haefle or an Empire or a RuralNet or a Plexicom will and that helps them compete against the larger, national carriers and service providers.”
Often times, there are few broadband options in rural areas. There might just be satellite service or one big national carrier. Both can be expensive and not very reliable. If there’s only one show in town, there’s no incentive to upgrade infrastructure.
Manning thinks open access models, like Southern Tier Network breed competition.
“I believe what STN offers is that open access fiber to help encourage other carriers and service providers to come in to counteract the monopoly that can occur,” Manning said.
Without that competition, a carrier can charge whatever they want, even for lesser service. But open access networks open up more competition, and maybe more options for consumers.