Thursday, March 7, 2013

High Speed Internet in Rural America: How Close Are We

High speed internet courses information through our cities and towns with unprecedented speed and clarity. Unfortunately, the sheer size of the United States and the costs involved in building the infrastructure to support it makes it very difficult for rural America to enjoy this staple technology of our fast paced world.

While this problem is getting better and more and more communities are being offered high speed internet services, there is still a long road ahead before the entire country will be connected. Indeed, when BellSouth and AT&T merged in 2007 for this specific purpose, many people had high hopes that they would accomplish just that. The promise was that they would complete the project in five years and would be offering broadband internet access to customers throughout Mississippi and other states.

That was the promise. The current reality is very different and many customers in rural Mississippi are still waiting. In fact, they have only marginally increased broadband service and the economic downturn has made securing investment even more difficult than before.

Further west, CenturyLink offers broadband internet to customers in 25 states, and indeed, nearly 87% of their customers are presently covered by their broadband network. While this figure sounds impressive at first glance, it should be noted that the vast majority of CenturyLink's customers live in highly populated areas and therefore this figure is highly skewed in CenturyLink's favor.

As of today, the FCC estimates that nearly 19 million Americans are living without the benefit of high speed internet access. That means that roughly 6% of our population still relies on older dial-up connections, or simply foregoes internet access altogether. At a quick glance, it's easy to see that the majority of this figure is made up of citizens who live in Wyoming, Montana, Nebraska, Kansas, and other states where the wide open spaces of the west make connecting high speed internet to major urban centers more difficult and costly to complete.

Unfortunately, there are no immediate solutions on the horizon. While AT&T, CenturyLink, and other companies are working on the problem, the reality is that still, rural America eagerly waits for high speed internet access. Regrettably, until a cost effective and easily installed network can be found, rural Americans are just going to have to keep dialing in their internet searches.

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