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September 02, 2014
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editorial

A high-speed highway to a good rural future


Broadband is high-speed Internet access that is always on, always available. Bandwidth—the width of the band of radio frequencies used, whether broad or narrow—determines the rate at which information can be sent, e.g. whether it takes two seconds or two minutes to download a photo or a document. Broadband, with its wider bandwidth, allows for transmitting much larger amounts of data at higher rates of speed, whether it’s for viewing a movie online in the comfort of your home, for teleconferencing a business meeting, or for taking a college class over the Internet, among many possibilities. [Broadband access is possible through a number of different methods: Digital Subscriber Line (DSL), cable modem, optical fiber, wireless, satellite or Broadband over Powerlines (BPL).]

As the number of Americans who have broadband at home has grown to nearly 200 million (from eight million in 2000), broadband access has become an essential tool for municipalities that want to attract business and thrive. Broadband will be the cornerstone for electronic commerce (e-commerce) in the future, and it offers many possibilities to support and enhance educational opportunities, to deliver telehealth and telemedicine services, to help modernize the electric grid, to support cell phone service, and to access not only government resources (e-government), but also cultural and recreational resources and more.

The federal government’s National Broadband Plan has set a goal of achieving universal broadband accessibility by 2020. (www.broadband.gov/plan/executive-summary/), and the government-backed Connect America Fund, similar to the one that helped bring landline telephone service to unprofitable rural areas in years past, will help subsidize the broadband buildout. But waiting for someone else to make it happen is not an option. Waiting until 2020 is not an option. Counties and municipalities that do not aggressively push for broadband now will end up playing catch-up to those with forward looking plans. Achieving broadband access needs to be moved higher up on our list of local priorities.

Without high-speed Internet connections available to all, we risk being left behind.