Commentary: Rural broadband could use a hand in Delaware

By Sen. Bryan Pettyjohn

Broadband access has emerged as one of the clearest examples of the upstate/downstate divide here in Delaware. 

Most communities in New Castle County have long had ready access to high-speed broadband internet service, often from multiple competing providers.  But downstate, it’s not too hard to find rural areas still lacking any options for wired high-speed broadband service.

Brian G. Pettyjohn

As policymakers in Washington continue to debate “net neutrality” rules (the principle that broadband providers shouldn’t be allowed to block or throttle internet traffic to benefit their own bottom line), it’s critical that these rural broadband access challenges be front and center in the discussion.  Net neutrality is a good idea, and writing these protections into law is long overdue, but it needs to be done in a way that avoids creating additional obstacles to rural broadband deployment. At the state level, I’ve worked hard to bring increased access to my constituents and businesses throughout Sussex County and we cannot allow federal laws to stifle the significant progress that we are making. 

While a Democratic net neutrality bill passed the house last year on a strictly party line vote, critics warned that particular approach – which was based on telephone utility laws dating back 86 years to the Great Depression – was a bad fit for the Internet and would discourage the massive investments in broadband infrastructure needed to close the digital divide.  We urgently need an alternative that fully protects the open Internet but leaves out the investment-threatening utility framework.  We need an alternative that uses a uniquely 21st  century solution to fix a 21st century problem. 

That’s going to take bipartisan cooperation. I urge Sen. Chris Coons and Sen. Tom Carper, who both have a reputation for pragmatism and bipartisanship, to help lead the way toward a solution.

Brian Pettyjohn (R-Georgetown) serves the 19th District in the Delaware State Senate.