Senators Study Ways to Improve Broadband Across Nebraska
By Steve White, Grand Island Bureau Chief - bio | email
To some, it's a pesky fee on their phone bill. To others, it's a lifeline to the world. Now changes could be coming to a program that's supposed to bring better Internet connections to rural areas.
"I pick up the phone, call who I want to call," an employee of Hamilton Telecommunications in Aurora says, as she demonstrates one of the company's services.
The ability to make a call or send an email isn't a luxury, but a necessity even in rural Nebraska.
Gary Warren of Hamilton Telecommunications said, "People are doing business in a different way these days in a global marketplace being out in Nebraska works, assuming you have telecom and broadband you need."
Just ask Jeff Morris -- the Silicon Valley patent lawyer advises clients around the globe, who have no idea he's talking to them, from Nebraska.
"Anywhere I have Internet access and telephone so I can talk to people, I can do my job," he explained.
But some worry maintaining Nebraska's network may become more difficult, especially in the most rural areas.
Senator Annette Dubas fears changes to at the federal level could see dollars go elsewhere.
She said, "Areas that area remote or high cost areas are going to be left out and so what do we need to do to make sure every area of our state has the service they deserve."
That could mean changes to the Universal Service Fund on your monthly phone bill.
"Have to step up and fill that void, and so there will be important decisions policymakers will have to make," Dubas said.
Gary Warren told a panel of lawmakers to make sure Nebraska maintains those dollars.
He said, "It's important that our hospitals, our schools, and primarily our businesses are served by broadband and fiber optic networks and Universal Service Fund is a big part of that."
They argue it's what allows someone like Jeff Morris to work from Aurora, not San Jose.
He said he hasn't had to worry about the quality of his Internet connection. He said it's every bit as good as it was in California.
And he's able to live in his wife's hometown.
"I have fantastic quality of life and live where I want and still do the kind of work I want to do and have been trained to do," he explained.
Lawmakers are simply getting input as part of an interim study, and may consider changes when they get back to work in January.