Rural Broadband Access – Is Your Community Being Passed By?

by Joanne Steele on April 1, 2010

The sorry condition of rural broadband access in the United States is getting a little more attention this week.National Broadband Plan

On March 31st, applications for the second round of the Broadband Access Stimulus Grants closed. Qwest is seeking $350 million to build rural infrastructure in the 14 western states it already serves. Small local providers like California’s Redwood Coast have also submitted proposals.

And, Google has small and rural communities all over the country going to crazy lengths to encourage the Internet giant to pick them for a high speed connectivity overhaul.

I spent some time this morning struggling through the National Broadband Plan, Connecting America. I urge every rural community government and chamber of commerce to do the same.

Here’s the thing. I keep saying, and I’ll say it again, we’re in the midst of a communications paradigm shift.

Rural areas have struggled through the development of the US national and state highway systems. Towns died for lack of access to those vital links.

The same thing happened with electricity and telephone.

Now, rural towns are faced with the biggest threat ever.

We are resourceful and inventive. In the past, we built a lifestyle with what was available to us. We successfully made due, helping each other, buying locally, selling locally and enjoying a lifestyle that made up in some ways for the lack of financial prosperity that was the hallmark of rural areas.

Now, we depend upon interconnectivity to survive. Our local industries are disappearing, and we are realizing that connection and collaboration with other small towns and with urban areas is the source of our survival.

Now, broadband access is more important to our future viability than electricity, telephone or physical highways were in the past.

We’re described as being “slow to embrace broadband” in the National Broadband Plan. Well duh! Who is going to embrace the high costs and slow speeds available in so many of our rural communities. And how can one “embrace” something that simply doesn’t exist??

In a recent post, I outlined how different age groups view the Internet. Why Social Media Marketing is Hard for Rural Tourism Business.

Unfortunately, in too many communities, the leaders who should be fighting for broadband access are in the age group that view the Internet as a gadget. They’re worried about aging water and sewer systems and failing to realize that the Information Superhighway and all the opportunities that come with broadband access is passing their town by.

What to do??

The Redwood Coast of California offers an excellent model for any area of the US. .. Maybe further.

  • Get a local team working on this issue. Read the article linked in the first paragraph of this post for information about The Redwood Coast’s successes and plans for the future.
  • Read about the US Broadband plan, and contact your US Senator and Congressman. Use the language in the plan to ask him or her how they are going to help you get broadband access.
  • Contact your local telephone service provider and have a serious discussion about their plans. If Qwest is successful, the pressure will be on more service providers to get on this bandwagon.
  • Support the efforts of local service providers who know your area and have a good plan.
  • Beware of carpetbaggers coming into your area with grandiose ideas. There are companies cropping up all over the country that are looking more at the potential for federal dollars than at the needs and complexities of serving our remote rural communities.

I am not overstating the importance of this issue when I say the very life of your community and its businesses is depending upon the success of this federal program. Without it, for profit telecommunications companies won’t invest in providing service to your area, and if they do, you wouldn’t be able to afford the huge price tag.

Here’s a quote about this from the National Plan:

Broadband is becoming a prerequisite to economic opportunity for individuals, small businesses and communities. Those without broadband and the skills to use broadband-enabled technologies are becoming more isolated from the modern American economy.

This is due in part to the rapidly changing nature of work in the digital age. Sixty-two percent of American workers rely on the Internet to perform their jobs.

…This broadband availability gap is greatest in areas with low population density. Because service providers in these areas cannot earn enough revenue to cover the costs of deploying and operating broadband networks, including expected returns on capital, there is no business case to offer broadband services in these areas. As a result, it is unlikely that private investment alone will fill the broadband availability gap. The question, then, is how much public support will be required to fill the gap.

An FCC analysis finds that the level of additional funding required is approximately $24 billion (present value in 2010 dollars).

Share what your area is doing to address this vital issue.

1 Lloyd Felton April 2, 2010 at 2:55 am

Hello America. Fascinating to compare how the US are addressing the is of rural broadbanmd deprivation compared with over here in the UK. You certainly appear to have more funds being directed toward rural projects. I would like to add my voice to Joanne’s post for the need to be proactive at the local level. In the UK we refer to this ads localism, is it the same phrase used in the US? This is definately the kay to rural enablement. Local community involvement has long been the mantra of the Rural Broadband Partnership ( over this side of the pond. I’d be very interested to learn if anyone felt as I do that there may be value in creating a wider international community voice to add weight to this principle of ‘bottom-up’ development. Best wishes with your endeavours

2 Joanne Steele April 4, 2010 at 8:24 am

Thanks Lloyd! Sign me up for setting up an international community voice. I hear from rurals all over the world, and too often what I hear is that this need for broadband capability is not taken seriously. Are you in communication with folks in rural Scotland and Ireland? Both are suffering for lack of broadband, and not feeling very hopeful for the future.

3 Lloyd Felton April 2, 2010 at 2:39 am


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