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Better broadband is needed

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Remember the '80s, when the fax machine was the fastest way to send documents across town? When wireless phones were considered luxury items, hardly affordable or practical. And the Internet? If you even knew it existed, it could take half the day loading a single Web page.

In just two decades, we have come a long way.

The fax machine has been replaced by Internet services that speed documents across the world in seconds.

In fact, most consumers carry affordable wireless devices in the palm of their hand that harness the power of the Internet to stay connected with friends, family and co-workers while on the go. And Web pages appear almost simultaneously with the click of a mouse.

These advances we now depend on for everyday life are possible thanks to broadband investment, also known as high speed Internet.

Companies across our nation are investing billions of dollars each year to build these new high speed networks.

In Oregon, next generation fiber-optic pipes are being routed right into our living rooms, giving us the fastest Web-surfing speeds in the country.

Investment in these robust pipes brings the world to Oregon's doorstep. High speed Internet connections enable folks from East County to communicate with the remote corners of the world more quickly than it takes to get a package up the road to Portland.

Investment in broadband pays other dividends as well. Growing numbers of commuters are jumping off Interstate 5 to telecommute efficiently from their homes, keeping our communities greener by reducing traffic and congestion on our roads.

High speed broadband networks also enable a specialist in Chicago to diagnose a medical condition in Troutdale in just minutes.

Those same pipes allow folks in Fairview to enroll in long distance learning programs from prestigious universities across the globe. In short, broadband is changing the way Oregonians do just about everything.

Unfortunately, not everyone has an on-ramp to this information superhighway.

The latest estimates reflect 49 percent of American households enjoy high speed broadband Internet access. But 49 percent is 51 percent short of where we should be.

Policy makers must put consumers first and determine the best way to address this deficiency.

We must continue to encourage the deployment of newer, faster networks so the Portland area can compete in the new global marketplace and enjoy the ease and convenience the Internet offers.

We also must continue to encourage new competitors to enter broadband into the marketplace.

Competition means lower prices for broadband for Oregonians across the state. To accomplish this, policy makers must put consumers first and determine the best way to promote wide-spread broadband deployment.

This is why I am working with Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., to enact the Connect the Nation Act, which we introduced earlier this year.

This important legislation creates a public-private partnership to determine where broadband is and is not.

Once we identify areas where broadband is lacking, communities can develop plans to encourage increased local broadband investment.

States such as Kentucky have enacted such programs with great success. As a result, more than 99 percent of Kentucky residents now have access to high speed Internet. We can do the same in Oregon.

Recent reports show Oregon is among the top-five states in the country in the race to deploy broadband.

But we must continue to do everything we can to encourage investment in this vital infrastructure. We should settle for nothing less than high speed Internet for all Oregonians.

Gordon Smith is one of the state's two U.S. senators. He serves as the chairman of the Republican High Tech Task Force.