Monday, February 16, 2009

Broadband funding isn't a 'bridge to nowhere,' but a key to help rural areas keep up, advocates say

The broadband provision in the stimulus package is creating much disagreement. Advocates say high-speed Internet access is necessary to economic survival in rural areas and it won't happen without federal funds. Critics argue, however, that too much money is being spent on sparsely populated areas. Howard Berkes of National Public Radio covered the controversy.

"The notion that we should be helping people who live in rural areas avoid the costs that they impose on society is misguided from an efficiency point of view and an equity one," former Federal Communications Commission economist Michael Katz said at last week's American Enterprise Institute panel discussion on the topic. The comments followed a New York Times article that called the provision a "cyber-bridge to nowhere."

The director of the Center for Rural Strategies says these comments "betray arrogance." Dee Davis said, "When people think of rural as 'nowhere,' they're saying the people who live in those places aren't worth working with and they're not worth helping. He says Internet access has become a vital component in providing quality health care and education in rural areas, and is necessary for job creation and sustainability. Berkes reports, "Rural advocates recall the decisions the nation made decades ago to use federal funds to extend electricity and phone service to all Americans, including those in the most remote and least-populated places. They view broadband as a similar kind of right to infrastructure."

A survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Project found that 57 percent of people nationwide have broadband Internet service, but the number for the rural population is only 41 percent. An analysis of the 2007 Census of Agriculture by Daily Yonder's Bill Bishop and Tim Murphy found that rural broadband is typically found in counties with large farms and areas which have a lot of second homes and tourists. (Read more)

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