Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Experts say broadband makes local less important, so rural papers should boost identity online

Rural broadband is sometimes held up as the torch that will lead rural America out of the dark ages, but Sharon Strover and Nick Muntean write for the Daily Yonder that the new technology may bring some negative consequences as well. "A quick glance at the historical record suggests that that any belief that technological development is an unalloyed good warrants a healthy dose of skepticism," Strover and Muntean write.

They point to rural electrification as a technology that dramatically improved the quality of life for farmers, but left many rural laborers without jobs. The Federal Communications Commission says rural broadband will make local government more efficient, provide greater distance learning opportunities, and make tele-medicine easier. Strover and Muntean characterize those goals as "laudable" and "well-intentioned," but say FCC fails to explain exactly how broadband will achieve them or account for any negative side effects.

"Broadband tends to make local places less important," Strover and Muntean write. "So now is the time for rural communities — which are all about remaining local — to consider ways they can maintain their identities as broadband spreads." Their suggestion to retain the vibrancy of local communities is for rural newspapers to create “online portals” for rural places to reinforce local identity and solidarity. Strover and Muntean close with one more piece of advice: "Rural communities need to act now to make sure that broadband’s virtual world doesn’t overwhelm the real." (Read more)

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