Thursday, October 20, 2016

Lack of high-speed internet service is blamed for population losses in rural Kansas

Lack of high-speed internet could be fueling an increase in migration from rural areas to urban ones, Dion Lefler reports for The Wichita Eagle. Kansas, where many rural counties have poor internet service, has seen population decline in 81 of 105 counties since 2000. "The consensus is that trend will get worse—especially among young people—until and unless someone can find a way to get better internet service to the outlands," Lefler writes.

"The overarching issue is how to pay for replacing thousands of miles of obsolete copper wire with modern fiber-optic cable, without making internet service so expensive for customers that only businesses and the wealthy would be able to afford it," Lefler reports. "The costs are staggering, about $20,000 a mile for fiber cable to serve widely dispersed customers in small villages and isolated farms." (Eagle graphic: The state's top 10 counties with the biggest population losses from 2000-15 are all rural)
Kansas Republican Sen. Pat Roberts brought Ajit Pai, a member of the Federal Communications Commission, to rural Kansas recently "to meet with officials from about a dozen small telephone companies who are facing difficulty upgrading their networks," Lefler writes. Roberts, who chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee, told Lefler, “I don’t know of anybody on the Senate Agriculture Committee, on either side, who does not want to further expand our investment in broadband. The support is there. The problem of course is the budget.”

During a roundtable discussion with Roberts and Pai, the biggest issue among telephone executives was who would foot the bill to expand broadband, Lefler writes. "Much of the funding for broadband deployment in rural areas comes from the Universal Service Fund, created by Congress in 1934 to string phone lines to isolated communities and farms. In 2009, FCC expanded universal service to include broadband and created the 'Connect America Fund' to help spread the money around. But some telephone company officials say that kind of end-user funding is obsolete in the context of the internet, where the biggest users of the system aren’t necessarily the end-of-the-line consumers."

No comments: