Rural Broadband: A growing problem


2020 has brought many issues for everyone. COVID-19, economic downfall, even murder hornets seemed to play their way in there at one point. However, one issue has been around long before 2020, rural internet access.

Since our woes began in March, when many moved to online schooling and working from home, the question posed was, “How will I have access to the internet?”

Though in this age it seems to be rare to find a home without a source for internet, it is more common than we think, and not necessarily by choice. Rural internet connection is a growing problem to many, with seemingly everything now needing to be done from home.

In a recent survey, many students stepped forward discussing how the lack of rural access creates barriers, specifically when it comes to being an online student.

Michael Duvall states, “The only internet access I have at home is through a satellite company as I live in a rural area. It suffices for some activities, but I cannot do much more than casual web browsing on it. Video chatting, streaming, and other activities are almost impossible on it. When the pandemic initially hit, I had to find alternate, safe locations to complete Zoom meetings for my courses spring semester. The only other constant internet access I really have is through ABAC. I don’t mind completing work on campus, but it would be nice to be able to work at home.”

Bryce Rowland states “I live about 15 minutes from campus in a very rural area. Because of my location, internet was nearly impossible to acquire. The internet we have now is spotty at best. Often, I find myself driving 20 minutes into town to sit in a fast-food parking lot just to turn in one assignment. Students who live in rural area are suffering the blunt end of the transition to virtual learning because of the lack of reliable rural broadband.”

As we can see, students are suffering greatly at the lack of reliable access. Has a solution been posed though? A recent bill that has since been passed allowed Georgia electric cooperatives to put in poles giving broadband access in rural areas. Georgia EMC knows a lot about bringing services to rural areas, as they happen to be one of the largest power companies in the state, and bring electrical services to some of the deepest rural areas of Georgia.

To begin the process, they are taking two major approaches.

The first is partnering directly with internet service providers to expand their reach. Colquitt EMC is one of the first to take this approach, with the first provider supposedly being Windstream.

The second approach is a little different. Georgia EMC’s would allow internet service providers to use their electric poles for a dollar as a way to expand service. In a direct statement from EMC, they explain how this would work.

“The One Buck Deal is a financial incentive offered to any qualified broadband provider that will deliver new high-speed internet service in unserved EMC areas. Under the One Buck Deal, EMCs will forego recovering a fair share of their costs to own and maintain their utility poles from providers attaching to EMC utility poles, and instead charge these broadband providers just one dollar, per pole, per year to attach their wires and cables to the pole. Making their offer even richer, the EMCs will honor this low, introductory rate for five years for each attachment as long as the new attachments are made to bring broadband service to unserved rural EMC members and are made on a pole the cable provider is not already attached. Just as importantly, the One Buck Deal ensures that investments made by rural Georgians in broadband stay in their communities.”

Both approaches from Georgia EMC will require time, but it is a major step in bringing internet access to those who otherwise cannot get it, or don’t have a reliable connection.

Another major company entering the internet access competition is SpaceX. This might sound off the wall, as the first thing we think of when we hear that name is rocket missions. However, they are beginning to offer more services.

One of SpaceX’s major initiatives is creating a worldwide satellite system to bring fast and reliable internet access to areas that would otherwise have no way of receiving it. The name for this new plan is called Starlink.

Both Georgia EMC and SpaceX will take some time to develop, but it is a step in the right direction that companies are seeing the need for more internet access to rural areas, and finding different solutions to fill the gap.

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