As we have observed and posted several times on our blog, one of the most common barriers to expanded and improved broadband access is the high cost of putting in the necessary infrastructure, particularly in regions of the country where the population density is low and the terrain is rough. A federal “dig once” policy–which would allow construction workers to install fiber conduits whenever they are working on federally funded highway, road, and sidewalk projects–would substantively lower the cost of infrastructure build out and would, at the same time, remove a significant barrier for smaller internet service provides, thereby increasing competition in the broadband market. A March 2017 article in Ars Technica explores the history and benefits of a federal dig-once policy. To learn more, visit Ars Technica.
Members of the WNC Broadband Project recently co-authored a opinion piece, “COVID-19 and Broadband in Western North Carolina,” which was published in the paper edition of the Asheville Citizen-Times on Sunday, 12 April 2020. To read a text version of this article, click here.
The shift to remote instruction as a result of the pandemic has exposed the critical problem of unequal access to broadband service across our region. More than 35 percent of students in Madison county lack connectivity, and even in Asheville, where higher population density means better broadband service for many, there are significant numbers of students who still do not have internet access. To respond to this urgent need, the Western Region Education Service Alliance (WRESA) has partnered with the Dogwood Health Trust, to provide internet connection through the distribution of hundreds of digital hotspots to teachers and students. To learn more about this collaborative effort, visit the Mountain Xpress.
The high cost of laying fiber the “last mile” to the home has left many communities without adequate, or any, connection to the internet. This problem has been made even more visible during the COVID-19 pandemic, as families in rural and under-served areas struggled to support their children’s online learning needs or to address their remote work demands. A recent Wall Street Journal article, “A Partisan Debate Emerges Over Internet Dead Zones,” explores the promise, and limits, of 5G technology to meet our growing connectivity requirements, particularly for that last mile. To learn more, visit the Wall Street Journal.
NTIA’s BroadbandUSA Program will host a webinar on Business Models and Solutions for Rural Broadband. Here is the description of their webinar program: “Rural service providers continue to deploy broadband solutions and work to close the digital divide, developing strong local partnerships and sustainable business models. Please join BroadbandUSA for its April webinar on broadband topics of interest, which features three providers that utilize different technologies to bring broadband solutions to their rural communities. Panelists include an electric co-op from the Virginia Piedmont, an independent telephone company serving rural areas in the Southeast, and a regional cable provider, offering a triple play of video, Internet and voice in the upper Midwest.” To register for this webinar, visit BroadbandUSA’s registration page.
One of the major obstacles communities face in building out or expanding broadband infrastructure in their areas is the high cost of laying fiber. A relatively new construction approach to address this barrier to digital service is mircrotrenching, digging a narrower and shallower trench to accommodate conduit and fiber-optic cable. CCG, a telecommunications consultancy in business since 1997, offers a concise introduction to this practice in “The Pros and Cons of Microtrenching,” first published in 2017. To learn more about microtrenching, visit the CCG Consulting blog.
A recent op-ed article in The New York Times (“Locked Out of the Virtual Classroom,” 27 March 2020) argues that we are facing a moment of reckoning with the growing inequality in Internet access, separating the economically advantaged–who have the digital capability and hardware to succeed academically even in quarantine–and those in rural and poor communities, who often lack even the basics for simple connectivity. The coronavirus is making clear just how closely economic inequality and the digital divide track one another. The pandemic is crystallizing for us how critical the broadband needs of under-resourced communities are, and what will be necessary to address them. To learn more, visit The New York Times.
The COVID-19 pandemic has closed K-12 schools and universities nationwide and, in response, education has gone online. But, as a recent article from The Guardian points out, as many as 22% of American households lack internet access. To learn more about what happens when students can’t connect with their teachers, and what some schools are doing to address the problem, visit The Guardian.
Early last week, in response to COVID-19, the University of North Carolina system made the decision to extend Spring Break by a week, so that faculty could prepare to teach their courses online for at least the next two weeks, and perhaps for the remainder of the semester. Locally, at UNC Asheville, faculty, staff and administrators are working together to support their students via remote-learning strategies. On 14 March, Gov. Roy Cooper issued an executive order closing K-12 school for two weeks and with the assistance of the NC Department of Public Instruction, teachers statewide are getting ready to take their classes online in the face of considerable challenges. As an article in today’s Asheville Citizen-Times makes clear, many students in Western North Carolina still do not have internet access in the home, and if they do, their service may not have the bandwidth that digital instruction requires. To learn more about how the coronavirus is compelling the rapid shift to online learning, and the difficulties our communities will encounter, visit the Asheville Citizen-Times.
In 2019, the WestNGN Community Broadband Survey, administered by the Land of Sky Regional Council, reveals that 13 percent of our region’s residents do not have broadband access and that for over half of the population, their service is inadequate. The WNC Rural Downtown Wifi and Jobs Project has been awarded $100,000 by the Appalachian Regional Commission to build out broadband access points and kiosks at regional centers, so that members of our community without access or adequate service can benefit from truly high-speed digital connectivity. To learn more about this initiative, please visit the Buncombe County Connecting Community webpage.