Rural Communities Passed by on Internet Superhighway


 

Most Americans would find it difficult to imagine life without the internet. A recent study by the Pew Research Center found that 77 percent of Americans access the internet daily. That figure includes 26 percent who report they are almost always online, and 43 percent that are online several times a day. With a vast majority of U.S. adults reporting at least daily online use, there is still about 11 percent of adults that do not use the internet.

With roughly two-thirds of American adults having broadband internet service at home, a third of American families also have three or more smartphones, while 23 percent have three or more desktops (laptops), 17 percent have multiple tablets, and 7 percent have multiple streaming devices.

The growing number of internet-connected devices in the household creates the need for faster speed or bandwidth. The Federal Communication Commission (FCC) defines broadband at a minimum of 25 megabits per second (Mbps) downloads and 3Mbps for uploads.

How much internet speed is needed? That depends on the number of devices used simultaneously and the type of activity. According to the FCC’s general usage guide: internet browsing and checking email or social media requires a minimum of 1Mbps; while downloading a file requires 10Mbps. The most substantial drain of internet usage comes from streaming videos, gaming, and video conferencing. For example, streaming a standard video requires 3 to 4Mbps, and a high definition video takes 5 to 8Mbps.

 

In Georgia, which ranks 19th overall and 14th within the U.S. for providing fixed broadband access in rural areas, the topic of internet connectivity has been a focus of discussion for several years.

 

Multi-Level Approach

While the vast majority of Americans are traveling on the internet superhighway, the FCC reports that there are still approximately 24 million Americans that lack access to reliable broadband service, primarily in rural areas.

Similar to the electrification of rural America, providing broadband access to unserved and underserved communities will take a multi-level approach that includes federal, state, and private investment.

In March 2018, Congress appropriated $600 million to the U.S. Department of Agriculture to expand broadband infrastructure and services in rural America. Later that year, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced the ReConnect plan that provides loans and grants to build infrastructure in rural communities.

In a statement regarding the launch of the ReConnect plan, Perdue stated, “Without access to broadband, entire communities are increasingly left behind in today’s information-driven economy. By connecting our communities, we are reconnecting Americans with one another and helping to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to benefit from this booming economy.”

In Georgia, which ranks 19th overall and 14th within the U.S. for providing fixed broadband access in rural areas, the topic of internet connectivity has been a focus of discussion for several years.

Last year, the Georgia General Assembly passed the Achieving Connectivity Everywhere (ACE) bill, which created the Georgia Broadband Deployment Initiative (GBDI). The initiative is guided by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs and Georgia Technology Authority, along with a five-agency team focused on coordinating and establishing broadband programs.

The GBDI emphasizes that broadband access is not a luxury, and it has emerged as a necessity for communities to foster economic growth and help businesses succeed. Access to reliable, high-speed internet is also considered an essential part of schools, healthcare, agriculture, and quality of life.

According to the GBDI broadband report, the capital cost to provide broadband services to all underserved areas in Georgia is estimated to cost more than one billion dollars.

The report further states, “The deployment of broadband to underserved areas statewide will require significant access to funding. While a statewide grant program will make an impact to some underserved areas, wide-scale changes could require a broad spectrum of funding incentives and mechanisms.”

Governor Brian Kemp put one option in motion earlier this year when he signed legislation that removes barriers for Georgia’s Electric Membership Corporations (EMC) to offer rural broadband services in their communities.

Dan Templin, senior vice president for Mediacom Business.

Private Investment

While federal and state initiatives and funding are a step in the right direction, total access of broadband to some of the smallest and most remote parts of the country will require private investment.

For more than two decades, Mediacom Business has focused its attention on providing broadband service to small and mid-size communities within 22 states.

To help eliminate broadband disparity in rural communities, Mediacom Business launched Project Open Road, an innovative and ambitious initiative aimed at upgrading and expanding its national broadband network.

“Several years ago, Mediacom Business made a financial commitment to invest more than a billion dollars in operating, upgrading, and expanding broadband networks in states we serve,” says Dan Templin, senior vice president for Mediacom Business. “We operate in many states that have large rural areas, and we provide these communities with the same level of connectivity and service that other companies are delivering in larger markets.”

This expansion was good news for businesses and residents in Southwest Georgia, including Valdosta, Albany, and Columbus, and surrounding smaller communities, where Mediacom Business extended its scalable, high-quality broadband network to hundreds of commercial properties.

Templin says Mediacom Business is building new infrastructure and improving its existing broadband technology. “The process of building a broadband network is basically a construction project, but once it’s built, it still has to be upgraded and maintained.”

In South Georgia, Mediacom Business provides broadband service to small and large businesses, healthcare facilities, and schools systems. They are also expanding broadband services to support advanced technology in farming and food production.

Templin explains that today’s internet consumers want faster, more reliable broadband service to keep pace with new technology and the increasing number of devices people are using.

“We have more than 600,000 miles of fiber lines across the country,” says Templin. “Mediacom operates a 10G network and offers 1G connections to all its customers.”

With wireless service being a critical aspect of internet delivery, Templin says, “Mediacom has an extensive wireless network. Several cellphone carriers have 5G capabilities, and the truism of any wireless service is that it doesn’t work unless you have an extensive wired network that can move very quickly and offload all the traffic from the cell towers. The growth of 5G with Verizon, AT&T, and other carriers has also been a key growth spurt with Mediacom Business because they need large circuits to handle that amount of traffic.”

Randy Brogle, vice president and general manager for Hargray Fiber

In 2016, Hargray Fiber expanded its company’s footprint in South Georgia with the opening of an office in Valdosta.

“We invested in Valdosta because we saw growth in this area,” says Randy Brogle, Hargray Fiber vice president and general manager. “Working closely with business owners in the city and county has allowed us to build a strong fiber network where we can expand our services.”

With steady growth in the Valdosta market, Hargray Fiber recently announced the expansion of its fiber-optic network in nearby Hahira and Adel.

“When we started in Valdosta, we envisioned this area as a central hub,” Brogle says. “As Hargray continues to have success, we will reinvest back in small communities in this area to provide our 100 percent fiber network.”

Focused primarily on serving business customers, Brogle says Hargray Fiber is supporting some residential areas. “In the Valdosta area, we had to make a strategic decision to focus on businesses, but residential is an important part of Hargray’s offering in our other communities.”

Brogle says whether you’re a business owner in a small community or urban area, there is a need for faster internet speeds to stay competitive.

For example, last year, Hargray Fiber was able to provide students at Valdosta State University with faster internet speed and Wi-Fi connections through a 5G internet circuit.

Todd Tillman, business development manager for Hargray Fiber in Valdosta

“We estimate that each student has an average of seven devices,” says Todd Tillman, business development manager with Hargray Fiber in Valdosta. “They were gobbling it all up.”

The faster internet speed and reliable connectivity is critical to student learning outcomes and provides a more positive campus experience.

Tillman says that having faster internet speed and access is not only vital for improved quality of life but also fostering a healthy and productive business community. “For businesses, the expanded bandwidth allows for more profitability and stronger overall economic development through the recruitment of more businesses and industries. It is also putting these communities on a more level playing field to compete with businesses in larger cities.”

 

 

 

 

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