No broadband? MAIN wants to hear from you [The McDowell News, Marion, N.C.]
(McDowell News (Marion, NC) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) March 01--People in western North Carolina, including McDowell County, who are plagued by less than adequate broadband Internet access -- or no access at all -- can share their problems with policymakers through a new website from the nonprofit Mountain Area Information Network (MAIN).
Through this new effort, their information may make a difference in expanding broadband here in the foothills and mountains.
"Mapping Broadband in Western North Carolina" enables residents in the western counties to run a broadband speed test and submit the results to be mapped and measured against the official Federal Communications Commission (FCC) broadband availability map. The free website also allows residents to map locations where broadband is not available. It can be found at http://www.main.nc.us/bbmap/
The FCC estimates that 19 million Americans, mostly in rural areas, cannot get wired broadband service from a cable or telephone company. That estimate includes more than 48,000 residents in 16 counties in western North Carolina, according to a news release from MAIN.
"Based on our experience, we believe the FCC is underestimating the scope of this problem," said Wally Bowen, executive director of MAIN, which has advocated for Internet access in rural areas since 1995. The FCC's estimate is based primarily on data provided by the cable and telephone companies.
"This new website empowers citizens to compare their real-life experience with the FCC data, but more importantly, it dissects the broadband problem, provides ideas for solving it, and shows citizens how to add their voices to the policy debate," said Bowen in the news release.
Lynn Morris Khan is the marketing director and member of the board for MAIN. She grew up in McDowell County, graduated from McDowell High in 1981 and now lives on her family's farm just off Parker-Padgett Road in Old Fort. Khan said to The McDowell News she and her family rely on satellite for their Internet access, which is expensive and not much better than dialup.
She hopes other McDowell County residents who have trouble getting broadband service will share their stories and perhaps policymakers at the FCC will pay attention.
"We want people to test their local speed and get on the map," said Khan. "We are committed to broadband in rural areas that are underserved by traditional companies."
She added this effort is not meant to criticize companies that provide broadband but mainly find a way for rural folks to have an easier time getting access to it.
"We are very interested in collecting their stories and see how McDowell looks on the rural broadband map."
Telecommunications is widely regarded as one of the most arcane and complex public policy issues. "Of course, those who benefit from this complexity prefer to keep it that way," said Bowen in the news release. "Our goal is to decipher the world of broadband policy and make it accessible to the folks who are most affected by these policies."
In a speech last May, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski noted the centrality of broadband access in daily life and the high costs incurred by broadband deficits. "Millions being left out of jobs, left out of digital learning, is not just an economic issue; it's a civil rights issue," he said.
Once considered a luxury, broadband is now a necessity for getting an education, finding a job, and participating in civic affairs. "Today, if you don't have adequate broadband access, you are riding in the back of the bus," Bowen said.
"I think it's a hugely important issue," said Khan.
Khan said folks in McDowell don't even have to own a computer in order to participate in this effort. They can go to the county library and use the computers there to submit their stories about lack of broadband access.
Increasingly, broadband-deprived citizens have turned to public libraries. But 65 percent of libraries report "insufficient" workstations to meet public demand, and almost half report "insufficient" broadband speed, according to the annual "Public Libraries and the Internet" survey. The FCC's current definition of broadband sets a minimum speed of 4 megabits per second (mbps) download and 1 mbps upload.
"Mapping Broadband in Western North Carolina" will serve as a platform for citizens' voices to share their experiences and to press key policymakers and elected officials for a solution to the rural broadband deficit.
Khan said she is interested in holding community meetings with folks in McDowell who need better access to broadband service. She said folks can call or email her in order to set up these meetings. Her number is 828-925-0397 and you can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(c)2013 The McDowell News (Marion, N.C.)
Visit The McDowell News (Marion, N.C.) at www.mcdowellnews.com
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