Tuesday, November 19, 2019
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Broadband access in rural areas is an issue that crosses party lines. It affects
people’s employment, businesses, healthcare and education. It is an economic
driver and a social linchpin.

But why are rural areas still so disconnected?

Initiatives, launched by both the Obama and Trump administrations, have put
the issue to the forefront for almost a decade. Officials know the problem exists.
But experts say that even now, it’s hard to judge how big the problem is or how
many people it affects in under-served areas.

Legislators and companies are working on solutions, ranging from wireless
broadband to fiber optics to tax credits. The first step though is understanding who
does and does not have access. That, experts say, is a work in progress.

In this series, Farm and Dairy examines the issue and talks with people
affected, as well as those working to find solutions.

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Part 1

sheep in field

Farmers are told to share our stories, because the divide between people and where their food comes from is growing by the day. The internet is the quickest way to do that, because most of the people who need to hear our stories don’t live next door. But if we can’t get reliable access, how do we reach them?

Carroll County Coders

Carroll County Coders

Carroll County Coders, or C++, is a 4-H club that used to be dual-enrolled as a
Girls Who Code club.

Girls Who Code is a nation-wide organization that works on closing the gender
gap in technology by teaching middle school- and high school-aged girls computer
science skills and helping them make inroads into the field of computer science.

Adviser Emily Harsh started the club in 2016 to help teenaged girls in the area
learn more about technology, coding and computers.

Once the club moved over into 4-H entirely, it expanded to include boys and
elementary school-aged students.

In addition to computers and coding, the club also recently began doing
soldering activities as another way to learn more about technology. It bought the
equipment needed for these activities through a grant from the Ashton
Foundation.

The club takes annual field trips to the Google headquarters in Pittsburgh.
Members have also participated in the Code Hopper Challenge, a hackathon at
the Akron Art Museum. Some of the members have shown projects at the county
level and at the Ohio State Fair.

Dail-up v. Broadband

Minimum Broadband Speeds Graph

Dial-up internet speeds top out at about 56 kilobits-per-second, according to Purdue University. The Federal Communications Commission’s benchmark speed for broadband is 25 megabits per-second download and 3 mbps upload.

The FCC says download indicates the speed of getting information from the internet to a computer, and upload indicates the speed of getting information from a computer to the internet.

Faster download speeds are relied upon by:

  • Hospitals that share health records and connect first responders
  • Schools that conduct online testing and access databases
  • Libraries that operate public computer centers
  • Small businesses that manage inventory and operate credit card machines

The Congressional Research Service recommended a range of 50 mbps to 1 gigabit or more depending on the needs of the institution.

Sources: Purdue University, the FCC, the Congressional Research Service.

The Problems with Mapping

The Federal Communications Commission estimates almost 90% of rural communities have broadband internet access. Experts say that percentage is too high. They are calling for more accurate mapping to understand who does and does not have internet access in under-served areas.

As of 2016, 98.1% of the country reportedly had access to either fixed terrestrial service at 25 megabits-per-second download and 3 megabits-per-second upload, or mobile long-term evolution (LTE), at 10 mbps download and 3 mbps upload. That percentage dropped to 89.7% in rural areas.

It also estimated 24 million Americans still did not have access to fixed terrestrial service at those speeds.

Microsoft president Brad Smith says the FCC drastically underestimated the percentage of Americans without access.

Connected Nation, a Kentucky-based nonprofit working to expand broadband access and adoption, also questions the numbers.

The organization said the FCC may overestimate coverage by a 5:1, 10:1 or even a 30:1 ratio. Representatives estimate a million Ohioans alone do not have access to fast, reliable broadband at home.

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Part 2

agritourism no wifi connection

When it comes to limited rural broadband access, everyone has a story. That’s what we need to keep in mind with this discussion.
telephone lines on a country road

A Farm and Dairy reader shares his thoughts on government-funded initiatives to bring better internet to rural areas.
Types of Broadband chart
Source: The FCC.
broadband and economic growth graphic
Sources: The Federal Communications Commission’s National Broadband Plan, Global Workplace Analytics, OSU’s C. William Swank Program in Rural-Urban Policy, the Hudson Institute, the World Bank.
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Part 3

mount kenya

We often don’t think about the stress limited rural broadband access puts on us. But how does it affect us? How is it impacting our future? Something needs to give. We, as a society, need to do better for rural communities.
laptop

In a recent letter to the editor, a farmer from Bellville, Ohio, details ways in which his family and business struggle with a subpar internet connection.
park bench

A reader reflects on how the digital divide is becoming the divider between the haves and have-nots, with rural America on the have-not side.

Guest Commentary

West Virginia farm

West Virginia Commissioner of Agriculture Kent A. Leonhardt shares his thoughts on the importance of broadband access to rural West Virginia.
wheat-field with telephone wires

Tom Ferree, the chairman and CEO of Connected Nation, stresses the importance of investing in rural broadband expansion for farmers and ranchers.
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