For rural communities, broadband expansion is no single thing

Hanna Mauck works from home Oct. 7, 2020, in Powhatan, Virginia. The Maucks live without access to broadband internet. Mauck said she uses a hot spot on her phone to access the internet, but the connection is not reliable for Zoom calls.

Hanna Mauck works from home Oct. 7, 2020, in Powhatan, Virginia. The Maucks live without access to broadband internet. Mauck said she uses a hot spot on her phone to access the internet, but the connection is not reliable for Zoom calls. Photo by Julia Rendleman for The Washington Post via Getty Images

Connect with state & local government leaders
 

Connecting state and local government leaders

Small communities trying to take advantage of massive federal funding now available for broadband expansion deal with multiple hurdles. Resistance from major providers is just one of them.

This story is republished from The Daily Yonder. Read the original article.

Tourism runs the economy in the old mining town of Silverton, Colorado. From skiers in the winter to hikers and four-wheelers and mountain enthusiasts of all stripes in the summer—without tourism, the town of around 600 people has very little industry.

And there is one resource the town is absolutely dependent on—the internet.

Most coffee shops, restaurants, and souvenir shops rely on the Internet to keep their business running—without it, owners can’t accept credit or debit cards. Without reliable, affordable internet, rural communities have limited economic opportunities and lack access to education, healthcare, and many other services. 

The Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program, created under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, passed in November of 2021, provides grants to states for broadband expansion to provide accessible, high-speed internet especially to rural communities. States, local governments, and nonprofits are now tasked with finding ways to use the currently available funding to bring broadband to residents.

Broadband expansion is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, said Adrianne Furniss, director of the Benton Institute for Broadband and Society, referencing the importance of executing this enormous infrastructure project correctly. Past generations have created the highway system and brought electricity to most of the country. Broadband—high-speed, reliable internet—is the highway system of the 21st century.

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act provides $42.45 billion for broadband deployment in rural areas. Furniss is concerned about spending the money wisely for this major infrastructure project.

This money is vital for rural broadband because without the subsidy, there is little to no incentive for internet companies to lay fiber optic cables in rural areas. It would never be financially feasible for them to bring high-speed internet to some of these communities because the take rate is so low.

“If you build five miles of fiber optic cable the number of homes along that five miles that take your services that's called the take rate,” said Shalako Powers, project manager for Region 9, an economic development nonprofit that serves the five-county region of Southwest Colorado.

“In a place like downtown Denver, you've got somebody taking your services every hundred feet. But between Pagosa Springs and Bayfield [rural Colorado towns 40 miles apart], it might be every couple of miles and because of the expense of burying or even building aerial with fiber optic networks, no internet service provider can get the return on investment necessary to build to those homes.”

The town of Silverton currently runs on fixed wireless, which means that all of the internet modems in Silverton are picking up internet from one tower. One fiber optic cable connected to the tower provides the fixed wireless, but if that cable is damaged, the town has no redundancy to provide backup.

Internet speeds as you would find in a city are not currently available for many rural residents.

According to a Broadband Roadmap created by Region 9, in Montezuma County, approximately 1,000 people do not have access to any wired internet service; 3,000 people do not have access to 25/3 Mbps.

In the Town of Dolores, Spectrum and Farmers claim to offer 1 Gbps; however, the average download speed is 11.62 Mbps. In Denver, through CenturyLink, a provider that also serves rural Southwest Colorado, a resident could currently receive up to 200mbsp for $30/month.

 “Two times this year there has been a fiber strike because of the lack of redundancy the long haul has provided between Durango and Archuleta County on one of the old CenturyTel lines, ” said Shalako Powers, project manager for Region 9.

“It was struck during a road construction operation and took down all communications in Archuleta County and part of La Plata County because the towers that provide cellular also run off the single fiber optic cable. So in addition to not being able to run the economy, they also didn't have access to things like 911,” Powers told the Daily Yonder.

Redundancy for broadband means that the fiber optic cable creates a loop, said Powers. For example, in Southwest Colorado, this means that there’s fiber optic cable running through each community and connecting to the major cities of Salt Lake City, Utah, Albuquerque, New Mexico, Denver, Colorado and Phoenix, Arizona where if the cable is damaged, service continues from the other direction, instead of everything past the damage being completely cut off.

Developing the Middle Mile

Region 9 applied for $66 million from the National Telecommunications Infrastructure Administration, an agency managing the distribution of the money, to develop middle-mile infrastructure. “Middle-mile” refers to the connections between communities, while “last-mile” refers to connections to homes and businesses.

“A lot of our area lacks the middle mile infrastructure necessary to get really high speeds at the place of work or somebody's residence,” said Powers. Region 9 recently found out they were not afforded the funding, and now has to figure out a different way to fund the building of those middle-mile connections.

But even once the infrastructure exists, not all rural residents will have access to the internet. “Everybody says the problem in rural areas is access and no infrastructure and the problem in urban areas is affordability,” said Furniss, “The answer is affordability is as much of a problem in rural areas as it is in urban areas. And in fact, people are paying more for worse service in rural areas.”

The Benton Institute is helping communities create plans for broadband expansion, and part of that is finding alternative service providers that are able to provide competition for the larger players. “When Frontier is the only game in town, we look next door and see whether there's a co-op provider that might edge out into your area.,” said Furniss.

“One of the reasons I'm in love with electric co-ops and telephone co-ops is that they, the community owns the network,” said Furniss. “They don't care if the return on investment takes 10-plus years. They're ok with that. The big guys want their return in three years.”

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.