High-Speed Broadband Is A Lifeline For Rural America
- Tue 07:15 AM 12/18/2012
Most of the people I know who choose to live in rural America happily do without the conveniences of the cities and suburbs in order to enjoy the benefits of rural life.
In today's world, though, high-speed broadband networks are far more than a convenience for rural America. They deliver greater opportunity for improved healthcare, education and economic development through advanced communications.
Modern broadband connections allow patients in small towns to be examined and even treated from afar by medical experts in distant cities. Kids in rural schools too small to offer advanced courses could take those courses online. Broadband networks could help stem the population decline in some rural areas by attracting new businesses that create new jobs.
To forego the benefits that state-of-the-art broadband networks bring would limit the potential of small towns and rural counties that deserve to be equal beneficiaries of the technology revolution that’s being made possible by the transition away from legacy analog copper wire-based networks and to high-speed next generation Internet Protocol (IP)-based networks.
Despite the explosive growth in broadband Internet services and capacity over the past decade, there’s an undeniable gap separating rural America from the rest of the country. This summer the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) reported that broadband access is still not available to 19 million Americans, and 14.5 million of those Americans live in rural areas.
The federal government is understandably concerned about this digital divide. President Obama has set a goal of achieving a nationwide IP broadband network that will connect “every corner of our country to the digital age.” The Rural Utilities Service (RUS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture is funding rural broadband network construction through public/private partnerships, and recent rules changes proposed by the RUS would streamline the process of reviewing and implementing grants of public funds for rural broadband projects. That’s all commendable, but federal money is limited, and the task at hand will require more, mostly private, investment.
Last year telecommunications companies invested $66 billion in expanding and modernizing their broadband network capacity. Much of that investment has gone into creating faster, more sophisticated broadband IP-based networks, advanced next generation networks that allow the devices of today – smartphones and tablets - to communicate with each other over the Internet at super-fast speeds.
The new broadband networks supported by this investment are not only IP-based, they’re increasingly wireless, deploying the new generation of broadband wireless service known as 4G LTE. Wireless broadband is a natural solution for rural areas because it doesn't involve running miles of expensive fiber-optic cable across thinly populated swaths of land.
To encourage more of this kind of private investment in rural districts, federal and state policy makers need to trim cumbersome regulations written back in the days when telecommunications was limited to voice phone calls over antiquated networks with only one provider. With today’s many choices in communications delivery, the sweeping advances in IP communications technology make that era look like the Stone Age, and Stone Age regulations are a hindrance in the Information Age.
Removing barriers to investment and modernization of our networks and accelerating the spread of advanced broadband networks is a crucial issue for the whole country. But nobody has a bigger stake in seeing it happen than the 50 million of us who live in rural America.