As communications technology changes, it is important that all Americans have access to reliable communications service. Rural America cannot get left behind.
From Sunday, June 23 to Wednesday, June 26, 2013 participants representing more than 500 local, regional, and national advocacy organizations gathered outside of DC to participate in the National Rural Assembly. The Assembly works to build a stronger, more vibrant rural America and during the conference attendees discussed rural policies regarding health care, education, community development, and broadband deployment.
The Rural Broadband Policy Group, a working group of the National Rural Assembly has compiled numerous stories from rural Americans about their experiences accessing and using broadband Internet. These stories are available to listen and read at the Rural Broadband Tales portal of PlaceStories.com, and provide a stark contrast to the pleasant picture of broadband access that telcom executives have been painting recently.
Verizon’s CEO, Lowell McAdam, proudly states that more than 80 percent of American households live in areas that offer access to broadband networks capable of delivering data with speeds in excess of 100 megabits per second. PK has already taken issue with McAdam's op-ed but it’s helpful to see which statistics he left out of his glowing broadband review. According to the FCC’s Eighth Broadband Progress report from August 2012:
- Approximately 19 million Americans lack access to fixed broadband service
- 14.5 million Americans in rural America lack access to broadband
- Approximately 100 million Americans do not subscribe to broadband service even in areas where it is available, affordability being one of the main reasons for this decision.
- The FCC report concludes that broadband is not being deployed in a reasonable and timely fashion.
Sometimes, those of us in urban and suburban America take for granted basic reliable broadband access. For millions of these rural Americans broadband service is unreliable to non-existent.
Below are excerpts from some of numerous Rural Broadband Tales compiled by the Center for Rural Strategies.
Unreliable Broadband Affects a Family’s Ability to Function Effectively
John Hicks is a coalminer in Perry County, Kentucky and is a Windstream customer. Everyone in his area uses Windstream as a provider and John says that Windstream’s service drops around 300-400 times per month across the area. His family pays all of their bills online and his two school-aged children need to have Internet access to do their homework 90% of the time. As John states, “When they can’t get online, what do they tell their teachers? It all falls down to us paying for something we can’t use… like paying for a car that’s setting on blocks. It’s useless. We pay for 3 Mb/s but our service is really 0.14 Mb/s. Dial up is faster than what I’m getting right now.”
Unreliable Broadband Harms Rural Small Businesses and Affects the Bottom Line
Kelly Tahuna (unsure of exact spelling) is a professional web developer who lives in Browns Fork, Kentucky and works from home. Kelly reveals that the unreliable web service in his area directly affects his business. “I have definitely lost clients over it. My primary employer right now – an outfit in Miami – on numerous occasions they’ve told me that every time my service goes down at critical times it’s costing them money. I guess the longer the issue drags out the more tenuous the relationship gets.”
Lack of Broadband Stifles Rural Business Opportunities
Joyce Dearstyne lives in Elk City, ID and notes how her area has been denied access to markets because of the lack of broadband in rural communities. She says this is particularly important as her area’s economic base transitions from the timber industry to value added products. If her area had access to broadband it could “utilize e-commerce capabilities to promote artists in the woods and other value-added good products and create a level playing field for my businesses and artisans to compete throughout the world for those markets.”
Reliable Rural Broadband Benefits those outside of Rural America
John Carwell is a minister who services Clay, Leslie, and Bell Counties in southeastern Kentucky. John’s two great barriers are (1) no wireless service and (2) poor broadband service. “We feel helpless when we talk to the communication companies. We say we have the tower and land to put your services and equipment on…We’re helpless because the response is always ‘well there’s not enough people.’ That’s tough to hear because what they’re saying is ‘your area’s not worth it.’” But as John later mentions, broadband build out in rural America is not a bridge to nowhere. “If they would take the time and expense to help us build the infrastructure in our communities, they’re building a bridge to the people of southeastern Kentucky. They’re turning the world around… They need to help us help the people make a difference in their global society.”
A fundamental principle of America’s traditional phone system was service to all Americans. Even when there was not a strong business case to be made for rural build out the public interest obligation required all Americans have reliable access to the phone system. As the phone network moves from traditional (TDM-based) technology to Internet Protocol (IP) technology, it is essential that this public interest commitment remain intact.
All Americans, particularly those in rural America, must have access to reliable, affordable communications services.