Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Expanding broadband to rural America will take a 'sustained focus' from Congress, Obama

Although the effort to connect rural America to broadband is progressing, “it will take a sustained focus from Congress and the executive branch to ensure that rural residents have the same access to broadband as their urban and suburban counterparts," the head of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Utilities Service told a House Agriculture subcommittee Tuesday, reports Agri-Pulse, a Washington newsletter.

"John Padalino pointed to significant progress toward providing rural America with high-speed Internet access," Agri-Pulse writes. "He noted that under the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, taxpayers have paid out $3.4 billion to pay for installing about 60,000 miles of fiber and 1,281 wireless access points which now provide Internet service to 'over 168,703 households, 12,539 businesses and 1,786 critical community facilities across rural America.'”

Padalino said 14. 5 million people in 6.5 million rural households lacked access to broadband in 2012, reports Farm Futures. Padalino, who pointed to a study that linked increased broadband access to higher median household income, said it would cost an estimated $13.4 billion to complete access projects.

He said a major obstacle is that 'private broadband entities, citing lack of end-users and profitability, have not fully-expanded broadband infrastructure into rural areas,'" Agri-Pulse writes. "He said USDA provides a generous mix of grants and loans to improve rural broadband because 'aside from enabling existing businesses to remain in their rural locations, broadband access could attract new business enterprises drawn by lower costs and a more desirable lifestyle. Essentially, broadband potentially allows businesses and individuals in rural America to live locally while competing globally in an online environment.'”

One problem is that too many networks are geographically isolated, limiting local providers' ability to serve rural areas, said Lang Zimmerman, who was representing the National Telecommunications Cooperative Association, Agri-Pulse writes. Another problem is that federal regulations haven't kept pace with the rapid acceleration of new technology, said Christopher Guttman-McCabe, executive vice president at CTIA - the Wireless Association. (Read more)

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