Broadband Internet: The Rural Way

You are forgiven if you missed an important vote for rural America on November 4th. Another vote overshadowed it a bit.

In addition to an historic presidential vote, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to authorize the use of unlicensed "white space" for broadband internet development on November 4th. The newly available radio spectrum offers the promise of low-cost, high-speed wireless internet access with the power to stretch over significantly greater distances than previous technologies.

Traditional, short-range Wi-Fi internet signals also use unlicensed spectrum, but reach only a fraction of the distance that studies show can be achieved by transmission on the newly available spectrum.

The unlicensed spectrum will become available after the switch to digital television in early 2009. Because digital television signals take up less spectrum, space between channels previously left vacant will become available for use. The spectrum will serve as a powerful new tool in the effort to bring broadband internet to all of rural America.

Access to high-speed internet in the 21st century is a public necessity similar to access to electricity in the 20th century. High-speed internet is important to new and existing businesses, access to information and even governance, thus it is crucial that we close the broadband access gap in rural America.

Currently, the U.S. ranks 16th worldwide for the percent of citizens with high-speed internet access, and we pay more when we do have access. In rural areas, both access and affordability are significantly worse and too many people are either forced to dial up to get online affordably, or suffer from the high price and unreliability of a satellite connection.

The Center for Rural Affairs was one of 10 rural advocacy organizations that signed a letter (pdf) to the FCC urging them to make unlicensed white space available for broadband development. We hope that the FCC decision will lead to the development of internet technologies that utilize the new spectrum to make faster and less expensive internet connections available to more rural people.

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