It is easy to overlook the many advances being made in broadband connectivity that aren’t the work of Verizon’s FiOS, Google Fiber or AT&T’s U-verse. These projects are smaller, as are the marketing departments of the service providers sponsoring them.
It would be a mistake, however, to not consider them. They are, collectively, just as important. In a way, they are even more illustrative, because they virtually all focus on the rural communities that are the test of whether the promise truly is attainable by all Americans.
In that spirit, I present some of the news from exurban and rural areas:
The Richmond Register reported last week that Kentucky Congressman Hal Rogers and Governor Steve Beshear want to invest in the state’s “Super I-Way.” This, the story says, could create the “Silicone Holler.” The area, in the eastern part of the state, traditionally has been underserved. Beshear, a Democrat, has called for expanded broadband throughout Kentucky.
In the rural upstate New York county of Tomkins, a plan to bring broadband to an estimated 97 percent of residents has begun to bear fruit. The Lansing Star reports that the first few residents of the town were told last week that they soon will be connected. The bottom line is that progress is being made in Lansing and elsewhere:
In September former Tompkins County legislator Pat Pryor told the Lansing Town Board that Lansing would be one of the first communities served because its residents had expressed the most interest in using the service. Clarity Connect has a list of 2,000 people in Tompkins and Cayuga Counties who signed up to express an interest in the service. This Tuesday the company called the first 19 of them, all in Lansing. In the course of only one hour, nearly a third of them said they want to hook up now. Three days later those six Lansing households are being connected.
The paper offers a nice description of the wireless system that will compete with Time Warner Cable, the incumbent operator.
Broadband also is coming to Steuben County, another rural area in upstate New York. The Star Gazette reported last week that a 250-mile dark fiber backbone project that cost $12.2 million will provide service for all businesses in the Southern Tier, which includes Chemung and Schuyler counties in addition to Steuben. The project, which may extend to Broome and Tioga counties, was on the drawing board as far back as 2001.
The advance of broadband can impact millions in a flash, or one person at a time. The Times and Democrat, a site that covers Orangeburg County in South Carolina, tells the story of Joe Jackson, a 78-year-old man from the town of Rowesville. Previously, he would have to go to his daughter’s house or the county library for connectivity. Those days are over: An $18.7 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (the piece doesn’t indicate a connection to the Broadband Stimulus, but it is possible) has connected about 25 percent of the county. An additional amount of almost $200,000 was awarded to plan for services in the rest of the county.
Not all the news is good, however. The Flathead Journal reports the Ookla Net Index found that Montana has comparatively slow broadband speeds. During the first half of 2013, the report found, the state had average downloads of 7.3 Megabits per second (Mbps). The national average for the period was 18.2 Mbps. The story describes the state’s efforts to rectify the situation.
This is only a small sampling of recent reports. It is enough to illustrate that not all the progress is made by big-name service providers. Residents of rural areas increasingly have speedy access, but progress is gradual and by no means uniform.