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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Has Broadband Reached Your Neighborhood Yet?


Are you reading this via a dial-up connection, cable, DSL, wireless, or satellite (which is how it was written)? If you are in a rural location, you are well aware the “digital divide” has kept you in the standing room only section of the broadband ballpark. Is any progress being made for you to manage your farm, for your kids to do their homework, or for telemedicine to come to your rural hospital?

In the past month, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) allocated additional space on the electromagnetic spectrum for wireless broadband. The new locations were the frequencies between the various television channels and was a significant step toward improvement of Internet service to rural America, says a new report from the Rural Policy Research Institute (RUPRI).

Broadband is the lingo for high speed Internet service, most of which is delivered to urban households over digital subscriber lines (DSL) or by the same coaxial cable that delivers cable television service. Most rural households are far from the end of the wire, just those last homes that were hooked up to electricity in 1949 by the REA. Basic broadband will deliver 768 kilobytes per second to a home, and send 200 kilobytes per second away from a home. Watching You Tube will require higher speeds to download and upload, but e-mail applications are well served by the basic broadband speeds.

Advocates for a nation saturated with high speed broadband service say it is necessary for economic development and many essential government, education, and health care services. RUPRI says rural consumers benefit from the service because it may be their only link to products and services that cannot be found in any nearby community or city. Even employment depends on high speed broadband service say researchers; and conversely, communities without the service have trouble attracting new business.

1. Broadband technology is providing better healthcare service to rural areas that saves on costs and expands opportunities for better services. RUPRI says 25 states are now using telemedicine or telehealth networks to supplement services, and a “review of research on cost savings associated with telemedicine for the treatment of heart failure found savings in all ten studies, including, in one case, savings of up to 68 percent.”

2. In education, a 2005 federal study found 94% of schools with Internet access and 97% of them had high speed broadband access. Rural residents with access to broadband service have greater access to college-level distance learning classes.

3. E-government services and public safety are enhanced with broadband service which allows them to streamline management and cut costs. It reduces the time citizens are waiting in governmental offices and cuts response time for fire and law enforcement officers.

RUPRI says 70% of Americans use the Internet at home or work and while providers increased broadband availability five fold from 2001 to 2006, they have not wanted to provide the same service to rural areas, and one-third of US households cannot get broadband Internet at any price. RUPRI reports the FCC’s measurement of success, of one provider per zip code, in spreading broadband across the nation leaves something to be desired. A national survey funded by the Pew Foundation found that 24% of Americans do not have broadband service because it is not available.
1. A California study found 1.4 million citizens were unable to subscribe.
2. A Kentucky study found more than half the residents of 7 counties did not have access to broadband service.
3. A national study found 38% of rural households and 58% of urban households subscribed to broadband service.

To spread broadband more thoroughly, federal policy requires the FCC to provide financial support in areas of high costs of extending the service, assist rural schools and libraries with better connection, provide funds for low income citizens, and bolster the rural health care initiatives dependent upon the Internet. However the Government Accounting Office has been critical of the lack of success of the FCC in meeting its own goals. RUPRI says the FCC’s allocation of the newly available frequencies is a significant development that will benefit rural America. This will happen in February when television stations must switch to digital broadcasts, and reducing their use of the broadcast spectrum. However, it may be 2010 before much use of the new space is made. Helping Internet providers spread the service will be USDA grants and loans, and RUPRI says its policies will be applied to encourage success.

When television stations switch to digital technology in February, a new series of segments of the electromagnetic broadcast spectrum will open up and the government has allocated it for use in spreading broadband Internet service to more areas of rural America. Federal policies report the current shortage of service, but acknowledge how it can benefit education, government, and healthcare.

Posted by Stu Ellis on 12/11 at 01:18 AM | Permalink

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