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Fate of high-speed rural America unknown

Agriculture.com Staff 12/12/2008 @ 3:03pm

Broadband service is becoming a necessity in rural areas.

In less than two decades since its commercialization, the internet has become an essential tool for businesses, schools, and families. Unfortunately those in rural areas seem to have been left in the dust as opposed to their urban counterparts. Hopefully in a few months that will become a thing of the past.

At midnight on February 17, 2009, all full-power television stations in the United States will no longer broadcast in analog, and will switch to 100% digital broadcasting. Doing so will provide a clearer picture and open more channels according to the U.S. Department of Commerce's Web site www.dtv2009.gov. Once the transition is complete some channels will be taken for emergency communication, while others will be auctioned for new wireless services. Many hope universal rural broadband is near the top of the list for those soon available channels.

Rural Policy Research Institute (RUPRI) President and Chief Executive Officer Brian Dabson says, "Rural broadband might not happen as soon as thought, as all-new mobile devices are perceived as more important."

"If businesses have aspirations to serve regionally and nationally they cannot survive without broadband," adds Dabson. "Rural businesses are finding it tougher to attract investors to smaller towns as they've become less competitive due to the lag in high-speed communications."

"There are some who don't see the need for rural broadband," says Dabson. "They don't realize how critical the 50% to 60% of Americans that live in 'rural' areas are to an economy by means of agriculture and tourism.

"They're essential to our national economy and need to be brought up to speed."

President-elect Barack Obama has made plans for rural improvements, including easier, cheaper access to broadband.

Obama's idea is to take portions of the tax money currently used to subsidize rural phone use and, instead, use it to subsidize rural broadband. It's a welcome idea, particularly since it's easy now to make phone calls over broadband. Additionally it's a good way for the U.S. to begin reversing some of the decline in broadband access.

With the Obama's recent appointment of New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson to Secretary of Commerce universal rural broadband seems more probable. In his own bid for the presidency Richardson was a strongly in favor of modernizing technology in rural areas across the country.

The switch gets flipped for digital television in February. However, it may be 2010 before much use of the new space is made. But rural Americans are waiting and ready to catch up.

"Essentially it hasn't happened yet, but it's still an exciting opportunity for rural areas," adds Dabson.

Broadband service is becoming a necessity in rural areas.

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