Broadband is another term for bandwidth, or the amount of data that can be sent through a connection to access high-speed Internet. The more bandwidth, the more information a user can send or receive at any given time. Broadband is an integral part of building a 21st century technology infrastructure that supports students, educators, first responders, and businesses. There are many challenges to delivering high-speed internet to rural communities and there are many solutions and partnerships that have risen to the challenge with innovative ideas, new technology, and creative partnerships. There's more on the horizon and RGJ plans to work with public and private sector partners to promote business development for small companies that install fiber optic cable. These small businesses have more than 30 years experience with fiber optic cable installation and would like to be a part of the solution for rural communities.
Problems and Challenges
Traditional dial-up is one of the only options available to many rural Americans. But it’s slow, really slow. Even modern dial-up modems cannot transfer more than 56 kbps. Older and poorly maintained phone lines strangle these speeds even more. The U.S is at the forefront of the digital revolution, but it still struggles to provide millions of its citizens access to stable wireless connections. Those who live in remote areas have trouble obtaining fast internet speeds because mobile internet providers are unwilling to build expensive infrastructure in sparse areas. Another limiting factor for those in rural areas is the enormous cost of internet plans. A 2014 report from New America found those who live in U.S. cities pay significantly more for slower internet than people in other countries. The U.S. currently ranks 17th globally for average peak internet speeds at 48.8 megabits per second.
Solutions and Alternatives
North Carolina is adapting to the changing demands of technology by extending Wi-Fi access to classrooms to support digital learning. Every K – 12 school in the state has high-speed Internet access, and 98% are served by dedicated fiber. To complete the recommendations of the North Carolina Digital Learning Plan, BIO will develop a plan to provide Internet access to all underserved homes to facilitate student access beyond the schoolhouse.
- In total there are 109 internet providers in South Carolina.
- There are 459,000 people in South Carolina without access to a wired connection capable of 25mbps download speeds.
- There are 728,000 people in South Carolina that have access to only one wired provider, leaving them no options to switch.
- Another 182,000 people in South Carolina don't have any wired internet providers available where they live.
“The mission of Connect South Carolina is to promote jobs and increase economic development through connectivity to broadband,” said Connect South Carolina Community Tech Advisor Heather Jones. “The community engagement process in Greenwood County uncovered a need and we were just delighted to be part of the solution.”
AT&T is planning to use cell towers across South Carolina to bring high-speed broadband to rural areas where internet access is slow to nonexistent. The telecom giant says it’s in the process of installing antennas capable of connecting thousands of people in sparsely populated areas. In South Carolina, 38 percent of people in rural areas — nearly 605,000 in all — don’t have access to high-speed internet, FCC records show, compared with 8 percent in urban areas.The subsidized areas lack download speeds above 3 megabits per second, which is roughly equivalent to a DSL connection. Under the FCC program, they’ll be guaranteed a minimum of 10 Mbps, which is still slow by modern standards. Hayes said AT&T’s early tests have “easily” met that mark.
Community Services for the Deaf
Broadband’s ability to expand educational and employment opportunities is especially meaningful for Americans who are deaf or hard of hearing, a community that faces unique challenges in education and that suffers from a rate of unemployment much higher than the national average. Communication Service for the Deaf, Inc. (CSD) intends to expand broadband adoption among people who are deaf and hard of hearing and provide them with online tools to more fully participate in the digital economy. The project proposes to employ a combination of discounted broadband service and specialized computers, technology training from an online state-of-the art support center customized to the community’s needs, public access to videophones at anchor institutions from coast to coast, and a nationwide outreach initiative. Thousands will gain online access to all the Internet has to offer, including sign language interpreters, captioned video services, and other content and functionalities designed especially to advance their educational, employment, and healthcare interests.
Microsoft wants to connect more than 20 million people who have no or limited internet access in just five years, with a hard deadline of July 4, 2022. The company will spend the first year of its project deploying a network in 12 states, including Texas, New York, Michigan, and Virginia. For the other 20 percent who do not have access to broadband, Microsoft will use more traditional methods like satellite coverage and LTE fixed wireless (towers and ground stations). With its white space network, Microsoft is hoping it can raise the wireless standards in areas forgotten by service providers. But it will have to overcome several challenges before it can go forward with the project. First, there are very few devices that are compatible with white space frequencies, and those that do exist are expensive.
RGJ aims to work with public and private sector partners to promote business development for small companies that install fiber optic cable. These small businesses may offer affordable solutions that will provide high speed internet to more rural communities.