Monday, June 08, 2009

Lack of rural broadband creates more than digital divide; also social divide from lack of global links

The readers of USA Today, who are disproportionately metropolitan, had the opportunity to understand an important facet of many rural Americans' lives today, by reading a 1,600-word story about the need for extension of high-speed Internet service, or broadband, to rural areas that don't have it. We've published a lot about this issue, but Leslie Cauley's story lays out the basic arguments and blends them with personal examples to create a rich picture of the problem. A glance box summarives the federal program to expand broadband.

(Encarta map) Reporting from the West Texas town of Plains, population 1,450, Cauley begins, "The people who live here are still waiting for the digital revolution to arrive." Outside the city limits, broadband is spotty, expensive and often unreliable. Rural folks don't like to complain, farmer Jeff Roper told Cauley. "They work hard, love their communities and wouldn't think of living anywhere else," she writes. "But that doesn't mean they don't want, and need, to be connected to the outside world."

Much has been written about the need for rural broadband to bridge the "digital divide" between urban and rural America, but "There's also the social divide to consider," Cauley notes. "While websites such as Facebook and Twitter might seem like mere entertainment, they also turn the Internet into a town hall meeting that spans the globe. Broadband is essential to that cultural shift, and to making sure consumers can participate."

Cauley says the best argument for rural broadband is jobs. Actual evidence of that is scant, but she cites without contradiction estimates by Connected Nation that "a 7 percent increase in broadband penetration in underserved parts of the country could stimulate the economy by more than $134 billion." (Read more) For more on Connected Nation, click here.

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