Since the beginning of 2020, the world has experienced challenges unlike anything today’s generations have ever seen. We can look at history and reflect on similar challenges from the past, but not much from those times can be applied to these most recent tests. Questions that have been asked for years, have suddenly taken on new importance, and Broadband Internet to Rural America is topping that list.
In 2020, K12students were sent home and expected to finish their school year outside of their familiar classroom. College and University students as well, were sent back to their dorms, and eventually back home too. For most, staying connected to their schoolwork wasn’t a problem, but approximately 20% of Americans live in rural areas, and those families with school aged kids faced unbeatable challenges simply because they didn’t have access to decent internet services. Add to that, the parents that were sent home and expected to work and function as if they were in their workplace. Imagine a household with two working parents, and three kids in school, all home during the day trying to share an internet connection that compares with early dial up modems. Parents were sitting in their cars, in the winter, in parking lots where they could connect to public Wi-Fi, for hours a day, so that they and their kids could stay connected with their daily lives.
Not just work and school, but access to healthcare in rural areas is significantly improved with better Broadband services. According to the American Farm Bureau Federation, nearly 77% of rural counties are considered "Health Professional Shortage Area[s]" (HPSA), with lower patient-to-physician ratios than urban areas. To help counter this, Tele-medicine can provide better and more efficient access to healthcare. Without direct access to Broadband in rural areas, patients still need to travel, and if people are confined to their homes due to pandemic restrictions, they may not be getting the critical care they need.
What is Broadband?
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) officially defines Broadband Internet as a minimum of 25 Mb/s download and 3 Mb/s upload data rates over any type of wired or wireless connection. This is somewhat meaningless for most cities and their suburbs since todays latest wired (Cable Modem and Fiber to the Home) and wireless (5G Ultra Wide Band) technologies can exceed these requirements by more than 40 times, reaching speeds well above the gigabit per second threshold. However, 97% of the United States geography is Rural, and much of it struggles to get the 25/3 FCC minimum, let alone gigabit speeds available in more populated areas.
25/3 can be sufficient for most requirements, (click on the Idea bulb for the FCC Broadband
Speed Guide) IF, it is reliable and consistent.
But most wireless services available in rural
areas suffer from many issues, sometimes
working great, other times non-existent. And unless there is Hybrid Fiber Coax (HFC) Cable or Fiber to the Home (FTTH) available, the wired technologies that depend on old telephone copper lines also tend to fall far short of what is needed for today's internet requirements.
Accurate and reliable data showing what areas have services, and which areas that don't is not easy to come by. The FCC and other Government efforts at providing reliable map data are inaccurate and misleading, (see FCC Form 477) and the ISP's typically take a very guarded stance with sharing their service area maps. Other maps that are available publicly tend to exaggerate coverage areas, especially with wireless carriers. To make sure your dollars are being spent as responsibly and cost effectively as possible, DCS Technology Design has developed the most reliable and trusted mapping system in the industry.
Broadband Internet is taken for granted in Urban America (which is only 3% of the geography). But (sadly) it took a pandemic for our nation to realize how “living in the country” without access to basic internet services, can so easily affect your livelihood, education, healthcare, and welfare. Access to high speed, reliable internet has become perhaps more important to Rural America today, than electricity was just 100 years ago. It needs to be one of Americas top priorities.