Some areas of the U.S., particularly in the rural portions of the country, still do not have access to broadband internet service.
“In urban communities and suburban communities, you have a choice of options,” said Zach Cikanek with Connect Americans Now. “You can get fiber optic cable to your house in some neighborhoods. Elsewhere, you can get it connected through your cable box and people can get download speeds of up to 100 megabytes per second without a lot of fuss. Unfortunately, that’s not true for about a third of the American population. Thirty-four million Americans have no affordable and reliable broadband connect coverage.”
Twenty-three point four million of the people who do not have broadband don’t have it because it hasn’t been cost effective for anyone to provide it in their rural area.
“What we need to do is find solutions, both in terms of policy and in terms of technology to make sure we connect those Americans and let them have the same kind of access that we take for granted when we’re closer to a city,” said Cikanek.
There is room for more broadband access using a portion of the electromagnetic spectrum that used to be taken up by analog TV channels, if that usage could be approved by the FCC.
“It’s a big chunk of territory right in the middle,” said Cikanek. “That is excellent radio waves, because it allows you to travel further. It allows you to get through some walls, some trees. If you are using broadband over your phone with like an LTE wireless connection over your cell phone, your smartphone, you’re probably talking to a wireless antenna that’s not that far away, maybe a few hundred meters, whereas internet broadcast over the spectrum we’re talking about can travel nine, maybe even ten miles.”
This could make broadband more accessible, because towers could be fewer and farther apart and so cost would not be as much to build in rural areas. There are ‘white spaces’ in the television spectrum where this can be tried, if the FCC approves the use.
“If we’re allowed to use those and if the FCC says yes, we’re going to set these aside, at least three channels, which is enough to deliver broadband access to about 23.4 million Americans, then there are a host of companies, private investors and public partners who are looking to invest in it,” said Cikanek. “They’re looking to make it a reality.”
Microsoft has worked with Pioneer, an internet service provider in Southwest Kansas, in deploying a trial network providing broadband access to residential customers and farms in Scott County.
“Today, to get the most out of your land as a farmer, you need to use precision agriculture,” said Cikanek. “It allows you to use less fertilizer. It allows you to water only when you need to water, maximize your yield, get more income and get a better price for your crops, and you can’t do that without modern internet service.”
It’s also important for students in rural areas to have the same access to information as their peers so that they can learn at the same pace. There are millions of households where children are attending school with peers who can access the internet, but they can’t when they go home at night because they don’t live close enough to town.