Monday, June 12, 2017

Broadband 'deserts' still abound in rural America

Private enterprise and state laws are not keeping up with the demand for broadband or the technology that defines it, leaving much of rural America without service that measures up to the federal government's recently adopted standard of 25 MB download speeds. Aaron Gould Sheinin reported on the situation in Georgia for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

"When bells ring at the end of the day in schools across rural Georgia, the local fast-food joints know what to expect. Gobs of students descend on the McDonald’s, Burger Kings and Wendy’s in small towns across the state. But it’s not a Big Mac, Whopper or Frosty many of the kids are after. It’s wi-fi. Sixteen percent of Georgians do not have high-speed internet access, and the vast majority of those broadband deserts are in rural counties."

"It’s not just students," Sheinin writes. "Small businesses, the backbone of most rural communities, increasingly rely on the internet for ordering, sales, payroll and more. In tiny Bluffton, in southwest Georgia, Jean Turn is the comptroller for White Oak Pastures, a world-renowned farm famous for its grass-fed beef and pastured poultry. The farm is easily the town’s largest employer and has a burgeoning online market. But doing business online is not always easy." It gets 10 MB.

In a University of Georgia poll of 11,000 rural Georgians, "only 29 percent said their internet speeds were sufficient, while 79 percent said access to broadband was very important to their quality of life," Sheinin reports. "More than 60 percent said it was very important to their ability to earn a living. It is not a problem unique to Georgia. A recent Pew Research Center study found 73 percent of Americans have broadband access at home. For rural Americans, however, that number drops to 63 percent."

Telecommunications companies have been careful not to extend fiber-optic lines that they don't think will pay for themselves, so there is much interest in wireless technology. "AT&T will begin an experiment this year for its Project AirGig, which envisions super-fast internet hubs atop power poles that beam gigabit speeds into nearby homes." But wireless doesn't work well in hilly or mountainous areas.

State laws can encourage or encourage broadband development. "2017 has been a great year for winning legislative battles against bills threatening to curb or eliminate municipal broadband networks," Craig settles reports for the Daily Yonder.

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