Rural Broadband

Having just come back from a week in small town Pennsylvania, and another week on the farm in southeastern Minnesota, the importance of rural high speed Internet service - wireless or wired - is evermore striking. In a small town in PA, where many still live on colonial-era properties outside the town core, there was still pervasive LTE and almost everyone had access to wired broadband with modern speeds. As a result, throughout most of the region, we had cheap, 30Mb/s or higher speeds without a doubt. This allows for a healthy population of remote workers with modern jobs, living in the country, and that even the farm-dwellers could benefit from global commerce (eg., Amazon) for both purchasing parts and supplies year round, as well as reaching new customers beyond their little country haven. As least as importantly, all had the choice to maintain complete participation in the global Internet-based culture.

Conversely, in rural Minnesota farm country we stay in a place with essentially zero wireless data service outside of the town core, with a much larger stretch between towns, leaving a much greater percentage of the population without useful home Internet service. There are promising options on the horizon for regional highspeed wireless (typically microwave, requiring a tower on your property), but these have been teased for over a decade with only very small rollouts, serving limited areas in a large state. Practically speaking, this leaves the unserved populations nearly as cutoff from the world as they were 20 years ago - they have satellite TV, enabling them to be passive media consumers, but have little familiarity with the participatory Internet culture. Remote working is nearly impossible due to a mix of inadequate bandwidth, crippling latency, and poor reliability. In so many ways online commerce is still a novelty, and certainly not a great enabler for small, rural businesses that it has become elsewhere.

It’s easy to focus on the trivialities of Internet service when these conversations come up. Is access to Hulu really a game changer? However, I challenge anyone who’s grown up benefitting from broadband to live a while like this. You may soon forget about the lack of Internet TV, but when even Twitter is functionally inaccessible you’ll find how much it means to be isolated in a world that’s increasingly connected.