Posted by: Ann Treacy | October 10, 2009

We need a National Communication Plan for rural areas

Thanks to Steve Borsch for the heads up on a great article in GigaOm (Broadband Isn’t Just the Web — It’s Our Future). I’m going to quote one of the comments to the article to describe the article, [the author was] “able to do something which I believe is very difficult: combine dry policy wonk kind of analysis with a real strong moral sense wrapped in clear but passionate prose.”

The author (Stacey Higginbotham) takes a step back – both historically and in perspective – to recognize that “No, getting broadband to everyone isn’t a profitable proposition for the carriers, but the U.S. has a responsibility to make it happen.” This is especially true in rural areas because – and this is another salient point brought up in the article – “the FCC is embarking not on a National Broadband Plan, but a National Communications Plan.”

We need to have policies in place that reinforce that need for ubiquity because lack of broadband doesn’t just mean slower access to the web – it means limited access to distance learning, remote healthcare, job prospects – both in terms of being unable to complete online job applications and unable to start or sustain small businesses – and increasingly it hinders civic engagement. But that’s just on a personal level.

On a community level or even national level we’re not working on all cylinders when we shut the door on certain populations – such as the modem people. There’s a corner of the world that can”t innovate using modern tools, there’s a corner of the world whose healthcare costs more, there’s a corner of the world who can’t get a degree online or watch legislative meetings from DC on their computer.

On a national level, we’re smarter than that – we just need to take the time to step back and think about the costs of not investing in all corners of the country.

In my mind, this relates to an interesting story I read through the Intelligent Community Forum about the Question Box – a service in Uganda where folks without Internet service call or text people with access for answers to their questions. (Sounds like my time on the Reference Desk in the mid-1990’s.)

I love the idea of the Question Box; I hate the need for it. It’s great that folks can get answers – but the Internet is now about interaction – not just access to information, not even just faster access to information. In the same way, broadband is more too. People in Uganda and people in the US are finding innovative ways to stretch the usefulness of broadband to rural areas – but the real answer is to stretch the actual broadband and let those innovative people come up with solutions to a whole new set of issues.


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