Column written on behalf of Coalition for a Connected West
The Rocky Mountain region tops the list of one of the most picturesque attractions in the world and one of the most sought after destinations for year-round recreational activities including hiking, camping, skiing, and snowboarding. More recently, the region has become a premier hot spot for startups, businesses, and investors.
In fact, four cities in Colorado—Boulder, Fort Collins-Loveland, Denver, and Colorado Springs—as well as Cheyenne, Wyoming were recently included on a list of the top 10 metro areas in the country with the highest tech startup density, according to Engine and the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. Last year, 122 startup businesses were launched in Colorado alone, and investors have taken note as 70 of those startups were able to secure funding of at least one million dollars.
It wasn’t world-class beauty and attractions that caused this movement to be centered here. Our region’s status as a high-tech force materialized in part because of focused, organized efforts by innovative leaders and policymakers to support private investment in expanded next-generation broadband networks. These networks are a critical part of the foundation that makes our startup culture possible. However, when we take it to the federal regulatory level, large-scale efforts to adopt smart regulations are not yet in place.
According to a new study by Dr. Anna-Maria Kovacs, a scholar at the Georgetown Center for Business and Public Policy, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) continues to enforce outdated rules that thwart private investment and innovation, and she proves that the impact of archaic regulations is greater and more damaging than previously imagined.
We’re rapidly moving to a world where services—voice, video, and data—are delivered on high-speed Internet-based networks instead of older technologies like copper wire. Consumers have spoken and are increasingly opting for these advanced services provided by multiple competitors including wireless carriers, cable companies, and traditional telephone companies. Regardless of this trend, legacy telephone companies are still required to maintain expensive, outdated copper networks that are unable to deliver services modern consumers want. New broadband competitors entering the market have no obligation to build or maintain outdated networks.
Dr. Kovac reports that while 95 percent of American households no longer rely exclusively on those old-fashioned phone lines, carriers are stuck with maintaining legacy generation networks—costing over $13 billion per year to maintain. This prevents and delays investment of big dollars into building, maintaining, and upgrading modern broadband networks, which would produce jobs and contribute to economic growth.
Western states have been on the right track, as some policy leaders have recently been at the frontlines of advancing bipartisan legislation that would encourage private investment in advanced Internet-based networks. Legislation has passed in Wyoming and Utah and lawmakers are actively working towards a solution in Colorado, which will hopefully pass in 2014. Western lawmakers are sending a clear signal that we’re ready to compete for innovation in technology, and the FCC should take cues to follow through.
Now more than ever is the time for smart legislation and regulations that will propel the region and the nation to the forefront of communications by driving innovation and investment of high-speed broadband connectivity that delivers new possibilities to innovators and communities. We should be proud of our high-tech hubs and be excited about the opportunities that new innovations will bring. We must urge industry leaders, lawmakers and regulators to work together to enact modern regulations that will carry us into a brighter future in tech innovation.