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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The Stimulus Boost
many rural areas, co-ops and partnerships with local business alliances
and communications providers have proven to be a successful model in
expanding broadband infrastructure. Expecting to receive more than
10,000 applications for funding, the U.S. Departments of Commerce and
Agriculture have been allocated a combined $7.2 billion from the $789
billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to use for broadband
deployment. At press time, specifics for the distribution had not been
outlined, but a large group of diverse organizations agree that the
criteria should be based on the potential for job creation.
Rural Vermont Broadband Project of the Vermont Council on Rural
Development is another example of how grassroots development and
government funding can help bring broadband infrastructure to rural
areas. Paul Costello, the organization's executive director, says it
has worked not only to bring broadband to rural areas but also to
coordinate policy conversation. In 2007, Governor Jim Douglas called
for the state to achieve universal broadband access by 2010.
to Akamai Technologies' "State of the Internet" report for the fourth
quarter of 2008, Vermont now ranks as the state with the
seventh-fastest broadband in the United States. "We are leading an
effort on part of the stimulus package money in Vermont," says
Costello. "We're doing this all very quickly and I think it will
[increase] the use of [broadband for business] throughout the state."
in the ICT industry also say that big broadband projects in rural areas
can't succeed without the support of the community. As an example, C.
Sam Walls, president of Connect Arkansas - a nonprofit organization
aimed at bringing broadband access to all of Arkansas by 2013 - points
to the results of the 2008 State New Economy Index survey, based on the
responses of 608 registered Arkansas voters: 29 percent have never used
the Internet; 7 percent were unsure of what broadband or high-speed
Internet access meant; 30 percent would not subscribe to broadband
service even if it was affordable and made available to every household
With that kind of public opinion, Walls says, it
is often hard to convince voters and taxpayers on the importance of
laying multimillion-dollar T3 lines to the community. "We believe a
large percentage of it is attributable to the fact that they have no
familiarity with it," he says. "That may be because they don't have the
access or exposure that would allow them to find the relevancy of that
Walls also says that the state and federal funding is
critical in deploying broadband infrastructure in rural areas because
ICT companies often have no financial incentive to expand into such
areas. Big business operations and high-capacity broadband customers
can set up in an area without the infrastructure, but the broadband
companies can't build the infrastructure in an area without big users.
In many rural areas, only government funding and stimulus money can
entice broadband companies to lay the first lines of development.
Walls' opinion, education is key to bringing communities of every size
on board: "We're in a hurry, and if we as a nation are going to be
competitive on a global scale.we have to get this done and we have to
get it done quickly."