Its no question that broadband has become a vital part of life. It’s no longer a service for just watching YouTube videos or reading dakotawarcollege.com – it has become critical for people to access healthcare, take classes, improve agriculture, and grow their business.
However, there are still millions of Americans that don’t have reliable access to the internet. Especially South Dakota. One source cites us as being 33rd in the nation for Internet Access.
The rural broadband gap exists because it has been difficult to find a way to connect users in rural areas in a cost-effective manner. While I enjoy a nice fiber-op connection here in Brookings, the cost of fiber cable can run $30,000 a mile. This makes running cable to widely dispersed customers in rural areas ridiculously expensive. In fact, just this past summer, a close friend of mine living in Summerset finally got cable internet – just on the outskirts of Rapid City – because a wealthy neighbor paid to have it brought all the way up the hill past him.
An average joe should not have to rely on the chance of having someone living in the neighborhood who is willing to pay the price to have it brought up a hill.
The answer to bringing broadband coverage to the 23.4 million Americans who lack access is adopting a mixed technology model. For 80 percent of rural Americans, broadband access is possible if we help Internet service providers and other companies take advantage of “TV White Spaces.” These unused channels below 700 MHz can be used to broadcast high-speed Internet as far as ten miles in hard-to-reach places. In other parts of rural America, the answer is fixed wireless or satellite coverage.
This mixed technology model is exciting because it represents a real, actionable plan that can bridge the digital divide in a cost-effective manner.
Connect Americans Now is a new coalition that has been formed with support from Microsoft and telecommunication companies. Connect Americans Now aims to use TV white spaces to bring high speed Internet to rural communities.
Connect Americans Now already has private sector backing but also needs the support of the public sector. In particular, the FCC needs to ensure that three channels below 700 MHz are available for wireless use on an unlicensed basis in every market in the country. This will allow multiple companies to provide high speed broadband without having any impact on broadcast channels.
It is important that the federal and state infrastructure funds include capital investments that will expand coverage in rural areas that currently lack broadband access. There also needs to be improved data collection on rural broadband coverage by the FCC, giving policymakers and the private sector pertinent information allowing them to make targeted investments.
Senator Thune has already voiced his concern over rural access to high speed Internet, and technology has proved to make this a realistic goal.
It’s time for the FCC to make this a reality.