Information and Communications Technologies: Taking It to the Country
Rural communities are leveraging advanced information and communications technologies to compete with major metropolitan areas for new investment.
Craig Guillot (Apr/May 09)
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Degrees of Connectivity
The availability and dependability of ICT infrastructure can vary widely in rural areas. While there are some towns with only 10,000 people that have infrastructures on par with major metro areas, there are also cities with a population higher than 50,000 that barely have broadband suitable for modern business applications. Many of the areas with the appropriate infrastructure have gained their technology through cooperatives that are funded by local governments and businesses.
The Mid-Atlantic Broadband Cooperative (MBC) is one such example. Started in 2004 with funding from the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration (EDA) and the Virginia Tobacco Commission, MBC laid a 700-mile fiber optic network that connected southern rural Virginia to the rest of the world. According to MBC general manager Tad Deriso, economic developers in the region found it had become increasingly difficult to attract new businesses without the appropriate ICT infrastructure.
MBC is unique because it offers businesses in southern Virginia direct access to a major peering point, a physical Internet exchange point where networks exchange traffic. There are only a few peering points in the United States, and with the nearest one just across the state in Ashburn, Virginia, MBC had the ability to pipe directly into the network. Deploying an advanced, carrier-class SONET/SDH network with Nortel's Optical Multiservice Edge 6500 platform with OC-192 and OC-48 rings, MBC ran fiber from Atlanta, Georgia, straight through Virginia to Washington, D.C. As a result, rural Virginia is now tied into one of the country's fastest and most redundant systems.
"We're one of the few rural areas in the country that has their own network with massive capacity into a major peering point," says Deriso. "It has really put us on a level playing field." He cites as an example one business that was paying approximately $15,000 per month for a DS3 (T3) high bandwidth circuit line. With the new infrastructure, that company now pays less than $4,000 per month, a cost cheaper than in major cities such as Richmond, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.
Mike Hickey, president of Hickey &
Associates, a Minneapolis-based site selection and public incentives
firm, says that many rural communities have invested heavily in the
past 10 years to play "catch-up" with the rest of the country and
attract their share of business. He says those rural communities that
can attain the appropriate infrastructure have a strong competitive
advantage, one that can even compete with major metro areas. "It has
allowed [those rural communities] to promote the fact that they not
only have the technology and infrastructure in place but a cost of
doing business that is much lower," he says. "It can usually be a tough
sell for some communities but some of them are doing it successfully."
city of Dublin, Ohio, is an example of a community that has identified
the infrastructure necessary to support a tech-based economy. Dublin is
expanding its communications network, which includes DubLink, an
underground fiber-optic highway providing competitive service,
connectivity, and redundancy for voice, data, and video communications
systems. This high-speed network provides instantaneous access to the
global marketplace. The looped system offers backup capabilities
through three central offices. Businesses have the opportunity to
choose their own service provider or to lease fiber capacity.
DubLink, the city also has installed a wireless fidelity, or Wi-Fi
network, throughout Dublin's business corridor providing mobile access
and enhancing speed, function, and reliability. In fact, Dublin's
broadband deployment program received international recognition in 2008
when the city was named a 2008 and 2009 Smart21 Community in the
Intelligent Community of the Year awards program. In addition, Fox
Business News recently named Dublin as the top city in its Best Places
to Start a Business survey, citing the area's infrastructure as part of
the selection process.