Broadband access: We have to bridge the digital divide


Online first.

That’s been a subtle shift in newsroom philosophies around the globe, and Farm and Dairy is no different.

When we started our Web site back in the mid-1990s, we uploaded only a few articles, and we also uploaded them only on Thursdays, so they would hit cyberspace the same time the print version was hitting your mailbox.

Now, news will typically hit our Web site before the print Farm and Dairy is even being produced. Last month, for example, when we learned of a fire at the western Pa. dairy of Dick Kind, it was Tuesday afternoon and the print Farm and Dairy was rolling off the presses for the week. But by Wednesday, we had the details on our Web site, and we had a full feature, photos and video online the next day — a full week before the information came out in print.

Friday night’s steer sale at the Canfield Fair? Photos and information were uploaded to our Web site before the clock struck midnight. And last week, I made sure we had wireless access slated for the Farm Science Review, so we can upload photos and information straight from the show.

The world we live in is driven more and more by online information and Farm and Dairy is trying to keep pace.

There is still many places, however, where Internet access is limited — even in our neck of the woods. Some of us are “connected,” and others would love to be, but can’t. The USDA’s Economic Research Service estimates that while 55 percent of U.S. adults had broadband access at home in 2008, only 41 percent of rural households had broadband access. (Read the USDA report; link opens .pdf.)
High-speed broadband Internet access (whether DSL, cable, wireless, satellite or fiber) is still too geographically limited, particularly in rural America. And that’s keeping a lot of us in the dark and out of the loop.

I remember dial-up (or should I say: I… re…..mem…. ….ber … dial… -up.). It ain’t pretty. The littlest graphics can send your computer into a sluggish tailspin. And photos? Forget about it.

Broadband access also impacts education. I just talked to a local school administrator last week, who said Internet access is critical and parts of Ohio remain sorely disadvantaged because they’re off the Internet grid.

And we’re not just talking K-12 education, either. We’ve received more news releases about webinars (interactive seminars conducted over the Web) for farmers this year than ever before, as budget-strapped groups and universities try to find ways to get the word out in a more cost-effective manner.

Limited Internet access also hampers business growth, economic development and government service. “Any shortfall in rural broadband availability is an implicit loss in economic opportunity for businesses, consumers and governments,” reported the USDA in its August 2009 report.

The stimulus act appropriated $7.2 billion to expand broadband access across the U.S., and Congress charged the Federal Communications Commission to report back by Feb. 17, 2010, how it plans to connect every home in the country. It’s about time.

We hope they get it right, because it’s been something they’ve been tap dancing around for years. Let’s just say, they’re moving at dial-up speed.

If we dropped Congress in the middle of a no-access zone, how quickly do you think we’d have broadband Internet access nationwide?

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