Who Will Bring Broadband to Rural America?

Most of us have momentarily considered packing up our lives and moving out of the city to a little cabin in the mountains or house on the prairie. Assuming you can reconcile the idea of modern technology in your cozy hideaway, the Internet makes it easier than ever to enjoy shopping and entertainment and still get away from the stress of traffic and the city. But one thing you definitely don’t want to get away from is your current high-speed Internet connection. No matter how much you might want to slow life down a bit, no one ever wants to slow down your online activities. A slow Internet connection, which is likely the only kind you’re going to get in that mountain cabin, somehow feels more stressful than not having one. Guess you’re not moving after all. Sure, there are plenty of urban areas with slow Internet connections, too. But the more densely populated an area is, the more likely there’s a private or municipal provider willing to make a fiber or other high-speed network a reality. When your closest neighbors have antlers, though, who’s interested in turbocharging your network connection? They Don’t Just Handle Wardrobe Malfunctions That’s not just a rhetorical question: the FCC has your back. That agency’s Connect America Phase II program is designed to increase the availability of high-speed Internet access in rural areas. Specifically, the FCC is targeting areas that are currently unserved, defined as download speeds below 3 Mbps and 768 Kbps uploads, by unsubsidized providers. The FCC has assigned $100 million towards experiments in providing rural broadband access, and that money is earmarked to accomplish specific goals. Three quarters of that money will go towards networks capable of providing 100 Mbps downloads and 25 Mbps uploads. Another $15 million will support 10 Mbps download/1 Mbps upload speeds in high-cost areas, and the last $10 million will provide 10/1 down/up speeds to the most costly areas to service. Over 180 bidders have responded to the FCC proposal, with over 600 bids totaling $885 million. So it sounds as if the agency will be able to be selective, and pick the most promising and economical options. Bids have come from both private companies and municipal utilities, and involve wired and wireless options, so each rural community is likely to get the solution best suited to its individual circumstances, rather than adapting one solution to every area. When and Where Is it Coming? An FCC map highlights the areas initially eligible to be part of Phase II funding, so it’s easy to see whether you should start getting excited about this news. The bids include projects in all 50 states, and even Puerto Rico. With that said, there’s not yet a schedule for implementation of any of these new high-speed networks. If you’re sick of your slow rural connection, but you don’t see your neighborhood on that map, don’t fret. Success in initial trials would likely trigger expansion into new areas. Until then, if you haven’t checked lately, you might be surprised at the high-speed plans now available in your area. See what high-speed Internet options you do have right now: [zipfinder] Image by Kenneth Spencer/Flickr

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Will Smith is a copywriter living in Chattanooga, Tennessee. His favorite word is “petrichor,” and aside from wordplay, he loves reading history, watching Dodger baseball, and racing with the Sports Car Club of America.

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