Many rural areas need better broadband but some are doing well

Wired Magazine recently ran an editorial from Matt Dunne at the Center of Rural Innovation (former senator and Google guy) – recognizing that while many rural areas suffer from bad broadband, some don’t…

According to a 2016 Federal Communications Commission data release, more than 1,100 rural fiber broadband providers operate networks of various sizes in some of the most remote parts of America, and more than 230 of those providers offer symmetrical (both download and upload) gigabit speeds.

He takes a look at how many rural areas are connected (Red Wing MN is mentioned)…

Just how far and fast is rural gigabit-speed broadband being deployed? My organization, the Center on Rural Innovation, mapped it to learn more. Using the 2016 FCC data again, we found that more than 2,500 rural towns have access to fiber internet, representing more than 8.5 million rural Americans—a million more people than live in the Bay Area, including Silicon Valley. Of those, nearly 3 million have access to full symmetrical gigabit speeds. And though the gap between rural and non-rural fiber internet coverage is significant, it isn’t as overwhelming as many people think. More than 15 percent of rural Americans have access to fiber, compared with approximately 30 percent of people in suburban and urban areas.

And he talks about barriers…

Rural broadband deployment isn’t easy, but the biggest barriers to better connectivity are not simply geographical. Twenty-one states currently have laws—largely manufactured by telecom industry lobbyists—that impede independent ISPs trying to deploy fiber. Wilson, North Carolina, for example, was one of the first municipalities to build out a network and show that fiber to the home was possible in a rural town. But in response, lobbyists forced through legislation to restrict municipal networks in North Carolina. The absurd result of this was that the Wilson fiber network has actually had to shutter service for some of its customers.

And some tools that have helped…

Some states, localities, universities, and companies have tapped Broadband Technology Opportunity Program grants, federal infrastructure funds designed to bring backbone connectivity to underserved areas. Many independent telephone companies have used federal universal service funds to build fiber to the most remote parts of their communities. Municipal electric companies, many of which were formed in the early 1900s to bring electricity to rural areas, make for ideal fiber-network operators because they do not have to fight phone companies to string fiber along their poles, aren’t beholden to shareholders, and can take a 50-year outlook on fiber investments. Small towns and rural counties have leveraged their ability to issue inexpensive bonds to build world-class infrastructure. And in some instances, successful businesses in small communities simply built their own ISPs so they could better grow and compete globally for talent.

And suggestions going forward…

The $600 million allocation for rural broadband expansion in the recent omnibus spending bill helps, but our policymakers should accelerate high-speed internet deployment in every way possible. Congress should fund “dig once” processes that enable efficient construction of underground fiber during road construction projects, provide incentives for “climb once” processes that enable efficient fiber construction on private utility poles, and more generously fund construction of this kind of infrastructure just like it does for water and sewer capacity.

And if the 21 states with laws that restrict competition from independent ISPs want to pursue modern economic development strategies to bring greater prosperity to their small towns, it is imperative they overturn those laws and allow their communities to innovate with the full power of broadband.

World-class broadband will not magically create robust digital economy ecosystems in rural America overnight. But fiber internet is the foundation that allows towns to grow their technology sector through entrepreneurship programs, remote workforce cultivation, co-working centers, and STEM curricula in public schools.

This entry was posted in FTTH, MN, Rural by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

I have a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science. I have been interested or involved in providing access to information through the Internet since 1994, when I worked for Minnesota’s first Internet service provider. I am pleased to be a part of the Blandin on Broadband Team. I also work with MN Coalition on Government Information, Minnesota Rural Partners, and the American Society for Information Science and Technology.

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