The age of the Internet has certainly made telecoms struggle to keep up with cable companies in terms of service offerings and retaining customers, more so in rural areas where broadband is harder to come by. With the advent of IP communications comes the potential benefits of broadband for these communities. There are plenty of examples relating to education, health, telecommuting, and other services that suggest broadband can be a remedy for rural economies. The recent update from the FCC (News - Alert) is good news, indeed, as some hefty funding to help push along the deployment of high-speed services in rural areas is coming to telecoms.
AT&T (News - Alert), along with nine other carriers, is participating in the Connect American Fund that uses surcharges to expand services to rural areas. The FCC is reportedly paying $9 billion to ten telecom firms to boost services in areas that are lagging in up-to-date services; dollars that will help provide services in some areas, as well as improve speeds in others.
Approximately 100,000 homes and businesses in rural Texas, and about 1.1 million in 17 other states will soon have new access to high-speed Internet from AT&T, which nabbed $2.5 billion of the funds. The money will be distributed over the next six years.
AT&T’s participation comes behind Louisiana-based CenturyLink (News - Alert), which will receive $506 million over six years.
“Like telephone service in the 20th century, broadband has become essential to life in the 21st century,” FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler (News - Alert) said in a statement announcing AT&T’s participation.
“Access to modern broadband is critical to life in today’s society. The financial support provided by American ratepayers through the Connect America program is an investment in the future of our rural communities that will pay dividends for all Americans for years to come.”
The expanding Internet has caused a shift in not only how we communicate, but also how we do business. Nowhere is the change more important than for our rural economies. Distance is now measured in bandwidth connection speeds. The “new economy” is having a profound impact on employment. Working in Cyberspace is a job opportunity that rural workers can and should take advantage of, and with these grant opportunities, the time to do so is sooner than expected.
Rural America has less broadband Internet use than metro communities, with differing degrees of broadband availability. Research has demonstrated that rural communities with greater broadband Internet access had better economic growth, which conforms to supplemental research on the benefits that rural businesses, consumers, and communities attribute to broadband Internet use.
Investing in rural America adds to the economic viability of rural communities, which strengthens the nation’s economy and helps communities to thrive. This is a small piece of the puzzle, but an important one as we head into a more connected and wired society.
Edited by Rory J. Thompson