Alaska has seen significant technological improvements over the years. Thanks to expanded broadband, thousands of Alaskans can be connected to anyone, anywhere. As access to broadband continues to grow, it is paving the way to new opportunities. From distance learning to telemedicine, and anything in between, the horizon has never been brighter for Alaskans to have it all.
Soon 5G data will make things even faster, opening new markets and new pathways to innovation. Anchorage will become one of the first cities worldwide to roll out a 5G data network. Telecom companies GCI and Ericsson announced earlier this year they would launch a $30 million project that will increase Internet speeds and connectivity to the Internet citywide.
We have made more progress than ever before, and Alaskans should be encouraged. But there is still more work to be done.
Some parts of the state still lack essential broadband access. Today, 20 percent of Alaskans do not have access to broadband. Among school districts, Alaska ranks dead last in the country in meeting the minimum Internet speed requirements, putting our children at a learning disadvantage. In rural areas of the State, the digital divide is even more glaring.
That is why it is troubling that Congress is considering reinstating net neutrality regulations from 2015. This bureaucratic red tape will end the Internet as we know it and turn it into a government-run public utility. By redefining net neutrality, the progress Alaska has made when it comes to broadband technology will come to an abrupt stop.
If building new broadband infrastructure stalls, so will job creation and economic growth. We know this will be the outcome because it is exactly what happened during the Obama-era net neutrality regulations. The country lost hundreds of thousands of jobs and tens of billions of dollars in investment.
This is not what Alaska needs now as our economy has just begun to come out of a recession. Unemployment is still high and we need more jobs. We need more companies like GCI and Ericsson to ensure Alaska is a state that is ripe with opportunity when it comes to broadband infrastructure.
The free market economy is always strongest when there is limited government intervention. Heaping burdensome regulations on the private sector will only disincentivize companies from investing in our communities. If we cannot attract the private sector, Alaskans will miss out on new jobs and the opportunity to rebound our economy. We will not be able to build on the progress we have made thus far.
Reopening the net neutrality debate simply turns the Internet into a political tool. Speaker Pelosi and others in Congress are allowing cities like San Francisco and New York City to decide what net neutrality means for the rest of the country. Urban cities do not understand what government overregulation will do to states like Alaska.
Consumer protections are important. Every Alaskan should have access to an Internet that is fair and open. But the Internet is working fine as it is. In fact, it is better than it has ever been. Allowing the government to interfere with the Internet would be catastrophic for Alaskans. Our lawmakers must push back. We have come too far for congressional meddling to stall our progress.
Bethany Marcum worked in telecom for a decade, and is now Executive Director of Alaska Policy Forum.