Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Rural broadband gap inhibits more than video and social networking; education and health at stake

The yawning technological gap between rural and urban America is growing. And since it's about speed -- about how fast and at what volume consumers can send and receive data -- it's not about to slow down, ever. That's the word from a policy analyst who is pushing government and private business to join together to even the playing field for rural America. To not do so, he warned, is to risk agriculture, manufacturing, education and health care in a vast part of the country, writes Julie Ardery of the Daily Yonder.

“Networks that connect research institutions in the United States can move 100,000 times more data per unit of time than the dial-up connections that some Americans still must use,” policy expert Hanns Kuttner told a gathering at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C. “The technology gap is not a fixed deficit that once filled, stays filled. The technology gap will be larger—much larger—in the future, along with the information and technology gap, unless significant action is taken to overcome it.”

Ardery reports that 9.8 million rural Americans lack access to broadband speeds sufficient to handle common Internet functions such as videostreaming, which has become a mainstay in education, business and health care. "The Federal Communications Commission now defines 'basic broadband' as at least 4 megabits per second download speed and 1 megabit per second upload speed," the capacities needed for video and social networking. ("The National Broadband Map, below, which uses the more conservative thresholds of 3 Mpbs for download speed and 768 kbps for uploads, estimates 16 percent of rural Americans now lack access to basic broadband. In contrast, only 0.3% of urbanites lack broadband access," Ardery writes.) 
The disparity has significant implications for education and health, Kuttner says. He looked at the education gap in rural America, where the difference between college graduation rates for urban and rural counties has widened from 9.5 to 12.6 percent since 1990, and says each percentage point "represents $625 billion in lost wages and economic activity over a lifetime." He also points to the likely impact the technology differential, if not taken on by governmental entitities working together, will have on rural life expectancies because of rural hospital inefficiencies. (Read more)

To read the entire "Broadband for Rural America" report, go here. To view the National Broadband map interactively, and to enter your own address to find out what broadband speeds are available in your area, go here.

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