Why Ohio is Struggling to Connect Its Rural Citizens
At this late point in the digital revolution, most us take broadband internet access for granted. But the fact is that many Americans live in places that still aren’t adequately connected.
Late last year, Ohio State Senators Joe Schiavoni and John Eklund introduced SB 225, a piece of legislation that would direct $50 million of annual grant funding toward broadband improvement projects in underserved areas across the state. According to Schiavoni, the bill “would help make Ohio competitive in a changing economy” by “creat[ing] opportunities for everyone, no matter where in the state they live.”
Major telecom providers like AT&T and Comcast have little economic interest in building the IT infrastructure required to provide connectivity to Ohioans in places like Fairfield County — an area southeast of Columbus with a population of just over 150,000. Funding mechanisms like SB 225 hope to correct for this problem by offering an incentive for all parties to work toward bridging the “digital divide.”
The State of Broadband in Ohio
In recent years, the United States as a whole has made great strides toward making broadband a truly public service. According to a report issued by Ohio State, as of 2015, 90% of Americans had access to some sort of broadband service. However, by the report’s estimate, that still left some 10 million people across the country without access to high-speed internet (defined by the FCC as 25 Mbps minimum download speeds and 3 Mbps minimum upload speeds).
In most parts of the country, the broadband “haves” and “have nots” are divided along the rural/urban line. Nationwide, 96% of people living in urban areas have access to fixed broadband services, compared to only 61% of people living in rural areas.
Despite broadband access rates slightly higher than both regional and national averages, Ohio continues to struggle with connecting its rural residents. While 92% of Ohioans have access to broadband services, this figure drops to 69% in rural areas. Connect Ohio claims that around 300,000 rural households — amounting to nearly one million Ohioans — do not have reliable access to the internet.
As Schiavoni suggests, this lack of digital connection is becoming a more difficult obstacle for Ohioans to overcome in our rapidly digitizing economy. A figure cited by the OSU report indicates that “the average consumer benefits of broadband access [are] between $1,500 and $2,000 per year.” In addition to helping Ohioans streamline everyday activities like shopping, bill paying, and studying, broadband access has also been shown to shorten periods of unemployment and help build and refine critical digital skill-sets. All told, universal broadband coverage in Ohio “would generate between $1 billion and $2 billion in economic benefits over the next 15 years.”
The Challenges of Broadband Delivery in Rural Locales
Before they can enjoy broadband-driven economic growth, states like Ohio must find their way around a number of infrastructural barriers. The fact that virtually all of the U.S. has access to telephone service and electricity is encouraging, but certain aspects of broadband delivery present entirely new challenges that will need to be addressed.
For one, broadband internet — especially in rural areas — often piggybacks on existing infrastructure like modified copper telephone wires or television cables. This forces both public and private broadband stakeholders to work within an existing network of wiring, much of which is inefficiently placed or arranged.
This is complicated even further by the fact that “broadband” is not, strictly speaking, a single technology. Delivering broadband-caliber internet to rural areas often involves an amalgam of copper wires, coaxial cables, wireless receivers, and satellites, and ensuring that each of these components is compatible with one another can be quite the endeavor. That being said, that diversity of available technologies gives providers some of the flexibility they need to solve the “last mile” delivery problem in areas like Fairfield County.
For instance, fixed-wireless broadband configurations have become increasingly popular in rural areas because of their ability to bridge the gap between established fiberoptic infrastructures and rural households. In these scenarios, residents connect their in-home router to a fixed antenna — that antenna picks up radio frequencies that are broadcast from centralized towers in urban centers nearby. Although these line-of-sight connections can be hampered by hilly terrain or excessive rainfall, when functioning properly, they can deliver broadband speeds as fast as any fiberoptic connection.
Ultimately, even if a rural household or business has access to adequate broadband infrastructure, it isn’t going to enjoy blazing-fast internet speeds unless its networks are designed, configured, and managed properly. Fortunately, IT experts like Turn-Key Technologies have years of experience providing a diverse assortment of networking solutions to clients across the country. Regardless of the infrastructure you’re working with, partnering with Turn-Key Technologies guarantees that you’ll get the most out of your networks and be well-positioned to thrive well into the future.
By Tony Ridzyowski