Wednesday, November 04, 2020

Pandemic highlights need for better rural broadband

"Talk about pouring salt into an open wound. Even prior to covid-19, everyone knew the state of rural broadband was not good. What this pandemic did was not only expose how deep the digital divide truly is between rural residents and their city cousins but also widened it by a country mile," Steve Cubbage writes for AgWeb. Cubbage is a consultant who helps farmers implement tech solutions. "As business, school and nearly all aspects of daily life for most Americans went virtual and online, this shift put an unbelievable amount of strain on the communication infrastructure that we depend on to function as a modern society. Rural areas were much less prepared for this accelerated warp-speed digital transformation."

Cubbage shares some blunt illustrating numbers:

  • Americans relied way more on broadband in 2020: Digital conference software Zoom's parent company saw a nearly 600% increase in its stock in 2020, online gaming activity increased nearly 115%, and Netflix usage jumped 40% during the pandemic, all of which require broadband.
  • 60% of farmers say they don't have enough internet connectivity to run their business, and more than 50% said their farms can't implement the latest agricultural technology without better broadband. 
  • According to the most conservative estimates, at least 21.3 million Americans, or 6.5% of the population, lacks broadband access. However, that's according to the Federal Communications Commission's maps, which are widely acknowledged to be faulty. Third-party research indicates the real numbers are at least twice as high.
  • The new 5G network is supposed to operate 20 times faster than the current 4G LTE network, but 5G requires more relay stations and is much more expensive to implement. That could be a problem in cash-strapped rural areas.
  • The federal government spent $47.3 billion on rural broadband improvement programs between 2009 and 2017, but rural areas still lag substantially in connectivity. 
Cubbage expresses doubt that the federal government is spending its money wisely on rural broadband, insinuating that major telecoms companies have not delivered on their contracts. 

No comments: