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Faster Broadband Rolling Out in Rural Washington

February 27, 2013

Faster Broadband Rolling Out in Rural Washington

By Steve Anderson
Contributing TMCnet Writer

There are a host of advantages to living in the country. Peace and quiet top the list, followed by the ability to see the stars at night and enjoy a slower overall pace of life. But that slow pace of life is often reflected in broadband speeds – something rural Washington State looked to change with a series of development projects.

The rural broadband development projects in Washington State are primarily focused, at last report, on Columbia and Garfield counties, where high-speed Internet hasn't exactly caught on due to low overall population density. Some reports indicate that at the Dayton Memorial Library, users looking to get an e-book might have to wait as long as five hours to finish the download. Connections measuring just one megabit per second are common, and often delivered over telephone lines.

Meanwhile, nearby cities like Spokane and Walla Walla bask in multi-megabit connections of the kind the Dayton Memorial Library – not to mention the hospitals, schools, government offices and citizens themselves – only dream about.

This dichotomy between fast-connection cities and slow-to-no-connection rural areas is often called the "digital divide," and it's the kind of thing that makes for great rhetoric. While the value of a high-speed connection is unquestioned – it provides the ability to rapidly transmit file data between hospitals, or the ability to send information from research laboratories and the like to schools, or even just the ability to sit back and watch some Netflix at night – in many places, it's simply not an option.

That's what a recent overhaul of the area's cable infrastructure looked to fix. Undertaken by the Northwest Open Access Network (NoaNet) and backed up by a share of $4.7 billion worth of federal funding from the 2010 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the overhaul allowed for 950 miles worth of fiber optic cable to run throughout Eastern Washington. Completed at the end of 2012, some locations, like the Dayton Memorial Library, have already started seeing service, and the hospitals are reportedly next on the list with connections ready to go by spring.

Residences and businesses, meanwhile, look to be connected within "the next few months," and somewhat understandably, lower on the food chain. But the wait is nearly over, and better quality Internet access should be on tap.

When Internet service first started rolling out in more places, it was mainly dialup access. But at the time, that was sufficient for just about everyone, as much of the Internet was text with occasional pictures. The idea of sending large amounts of files, or sending video, or using the Internet as a means to conduct voice calls or video calls was the stuff of science fiction. But as connectivity improved, so too did more functions become available.

With the widespread population of rural areas, however, many of these developments simply bypassed the countryside and were largely only available to urbanites.

The value of large numbers of users with top-notch connections is hard to underestimate – ask Amazon if it'd like to see more country folk with access to its always-on markets, or Netflix if it'd like a huge new pocket of viewers – and certainly, users would find it just as valuable. But the difficulties in establishing those connections are tough to surmount and require major investment to perform.

As technology improves, the difficulties are likely to drop off as well, but in the current state of things, it's big amounts of money that makes the bandwidth flow.

Edited by Braden Becker
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