For most Americans, access to a landline for telephone service is taken for granted. Although millions of Americans and businesses still use a landline for their telephone access, technological trends are tending towards other options such as “voice-over-internet” or cellular technologies. However, there is still a small percentage of Americans that have been denied access to even a landline, despite funding being mandated by Congress. 14 years ago, Congress mandated funds towards developing and improving the infrastructure of phone lines in Puerto Rico. A government mandated investment was deemed necessary as telephone companies were and still are unwilling to invest their own funds into a project that will not reap enough revenues to cover the costs. To this day, those funds have not been used as appropriated.
The FCC is considering this investment much like a business would evaluate it. They realize that the investment they put into the project will probably not create a net positive financial return, in the form of direct taxes. They also suggest that landlines are technologically outdated and that the future is with broadband and wireless technologies. However, there are several problems with the FCC’s arguments. First, it is not up to the FCC to decide how best to spend funds that have already been mandated by Congress for a certain project. Unfortunately, the low priority of this issue in Washington has prevented any action taken to force the FCC’s hand. Second, they are wrongfully assuming that a telephone company would only lay the infrastructure for landlines, avoiding broadband technologies, when in fact, it is nearly as cost efficient (due to a much greater return on investment) to install both at once. Third, by taking a business approach the FCC is failing to consider one of the basic functions of government: to consider the needs of and ensure equitable opportunities for those in our society who are less fortunate. It is true that the government will probably never see a direct return that will cover the costs associated with installing the infrastructure, but they are failing to consider the indirect return: business and job creation.
Since 99.7% of the businesses in this country are “small businesses” and almost all have access to telephone landlines, wouldn’t it be correct to assume that access to this form of communication would help to create small businesses? One can certainly assume that a lack of access would prevent someone in a rural community from starting or expanding a competitive small business. These small businesses will create jobs, which would increase family revenues and reduce poverty in areas that are currently the most impoverished. More than 200,000 American citizens in Puerto Rico remain with very few means of connecting to the outside world and little opportunity for economic or social advancement. In a country where technology is moving at the speed of light, it is important to not leave any Americans behind, regardless of their location or the minimal investment required.