Every technical advancement does a bit to reduce the gap between rural and urban life. The telephone reduced physical isolation that is far greater in the country than the city. Radio brought music and ballgames to the prairie. Television did the same for video. Cable equalized the number of video channels available to each population.
Wi-Fi is more effective in cities because of its limited footprint of a few hundred feet, which doesn't mean too much in Nebraska. WiMax's far greater range is the latest equalizer between town and country.
Last week, the small community of Madison, S.D., rolled out WiMax services from Sioux Valley Wireless. This Argus Leader story says that people within an 8-mile radius of the town are covered. Consultant Craig Settles comments that another reason WiMax is a good bet for rural areas is the paucity of streetlights and telephone poles, which makes it hard to support Wi-Fi's greater physical requirements.
Another small community -- albeit one with a far higher profile -- is the resort town of Jackson Hole, Wyo. InformationWeek reports that DigitalBridge Communications is serving the community with gear from Alvarion, which received certification from the WiMax Alliance only two weeks before the announcement. Currently, the piece says, only about 3,000 homes and business are reached, but eventually the service will cover the provider's entire 200,000-household footprint.
DigitalBridge is active elsewhere. At the beginning of May, the company expanded its services to Idaho Falls, Idaho. The release says the move marked the third community along the "Eastern Idaho Technology Corridor" straddling Interstate 15 in which DigitalBridge is offering service. The company serves the Idaho communities of Rexburg, Pocatello and Hailey and says that it plans to enter other markets soon.
The potential for WiMax to help bridge at least the geographic elements of the digital divide is not lost on the government. This spring, the U.S. Department of Agriculture loaned $267 million to Open Range Communications to develop a WiMax network to reach 518 rural communities across the country. Within five years, the project will serve more than 447,000 households and 6 million people in 17 states. The government loan is being supplemented by investments of more than $100 million from private sources.
This is not just an American trend. The Exchange Morning Post reports that C.A. Bancorp has invest $5 million in Everus Communications. The privately held firm is the largest in rural Ontario and provides WiMax services via 62 towers in the southwestern area of the province. The release doesn't say precisely what the investment will be used for, but says that it is now involved in an infrastructure expansion in Dufferin and Grey counties in conjunction with the Ontario Municipal Rural Broadband Partnership Program.
The emergence of WiMax, overall, is a positive development. The more communications conduits available the better. The fact that the platform can team and/or compete with 3G, broadband over powerline (BPL) and satellite to provide services to people who live in rural areas is especially welcome.