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FCC Approves Net Neutrality; Will Rural Broadband Benefit?

Most of rural America doesn't have the broadband Internet access their city neighbors have. Now, that might change.

On Thursday, officials with the Federal Communication Commission voted to approve net neutrality, or the ultimate segregation of channels of the Internet spectrum by speed and cost, something critics of the policy have long said would put smaller companies and service providers at a competitive disadvantage to larger members of their business sectors. More than three times the number of rural residents currently lack access to 25-Mbps Internet service today.

Thursday's ruling essentially classifies broadband Internet service as a public utility, thereby making it subject to additional regulation and ultimately passing that cost along to consumers. That's the take of opponents, who say that regulation could wind up coming back to bite the consumers that net-neutrality proponents say it will help most. Those proponents also say the ruling makes it possible for smaller companies -- including startups -- to keep up the pace of product and infrastructure innovation, something they say is important to the future of Web functionality.

With the combination of Thursday's net neutrality approval and the previously foreshadowed development of broadband infrastructure nationwide, officials say rural America's interconnectivity should improve vastly in the near future.

"We acknowledge that more efforts may be needed. Today, we are issuing a Notice of Inquiry seeking comment on additional ways to bring 25-megabit broadband to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion, beyond what we have done to date," FCC chairman Tom Wheeler said in a report released late last month. The report audits U.S. broadband access and outlines steps to grow broadband access across the U.S. "There’s an old adage from my days in the private sector that, 'What gets measured gets managed.' Today's report offers a valuable assessment of U.S. broadband and will hopefully serve as an impetus for meaningful improvements in the speed and availability of true high-speed networks for all Americans. We know where we need to be. Now we need to do the hard work to get there."

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