With rural Wilson, North Carolina being a broadband municipality success story; other NC rural counties struggle to overcome a digital inequities that could be remedied with future broadband infrastructure funding assistance.
A diversity of internet service provider solutions will be needed for Western North Carolina, which is both rural and mountainous; likely with very few subscribers in many miles of roads.
Denny estimated around 1.1 million North Carolinians still have broadband needs according to ABC11 News.
Denny who is heading the state’s effort to close the digital divide agreed that more partners and providers are a good thing.
Denny is hoping private internet providers will be attracted to rural areas with grants the state is awarding. He said his office has already awarded more than $30 million grants to help connect 16,000 households.
To further close this gap, Denny said the state is planning to use around $1.2 billion from the American Rescue Plan to invest in infrastructure, create affordable internet and award devices and digital literacy to households.
NC Broadband Goals
By 2025, the state aims to have high-speed internet
Can broadband can deliver health and equity to all communities?
Broadband is so influential on our society that we can now call ‘dependable high-speed internet’ as an essential infrastructure service.
Broadband’s applications are so far-reaching that these physical networks directly and indirectly affect a wide range of conditions that impact health and life outcomes, known as social determinants of health (SDOH) or conditions in the places where people live, learn, work, and play that affect a wide range of health and quality-of life-risks and outcomes (CDC-Center for Disease Control and Prevention).
If broadband is essential infrastructure, then regulation and public policy should support every American community having equitable access to broadband and the skills necessary to use it.
Why Broadband Matters
For most Americans, broadband is commonplace in professional, personal, and social interactions. Yet even with this ubiquity, the extent of broadband’s health and equity benefits aren’t fully understood. In part, this is because broadband’s physical networks do not directly impact health and equity outcomes in the way other infrastructure systems do. Instead, broadband serves as a platform on which a range of different applications operate and impact individuals. Just having an internet connection does not boost someone’s health outcomes—but using the internet to access remote health care providers, services, and information can serve as a conduit to improved physical and mental health.
Because broadband’s applications are so wide ranging, it can deliver services that touch every social determinant of health. From economic stability, to education, to social supports, to civic agency, broadband and the digital services it enables are today intrinsically tied to collective health and equity outcomes.
In terms of economic outcomes, broadband delivers benefits to both individuals and communities. Broadband makes:
Job seekers – easier to search for jobs, apply for them, and to keep looking for longer.
In turn, businesses reap benefits from e-recruiting, which makes it less expensive to access a larger pool of candidates.
Digitally fluent workforce – brings productivity gains to firms, who can then reward employees with higher wages.
Macro economic lens – based on higher levels of broadband adoption lead to economic growth, higher incomes, and lower unemployment.
Broadband also plays an important role in improving social outcomes:
Broadband democratizes access – to education, offering a wide supply of free and open education platforms, courses, and resources.
Help people foster social supports – stay in contact with a broader social network. For traditionally marginalized groups who are prone to social isolation, access to the internet allows them to connect to others anonymously.
Telehealth – the use of telecommunications to deliver health services and education—can directly improve health outcomes, especially for those who otherwise lack access to medical providers.
Broadband is the Country’s Most Inequitable Infrastructure
The 2020 state of American broadband access, adoption, and use is one of disparate outcomes. According to the 2018 American Community Survey (ACS),
85% of households have subscriptions to some form of “broadband” internet service.
~10% have cellular-only access to the internet
99.6% of households have complete plumbing.
100% of households with access to electricity.
Additionally, the less population-dense an area is; the greater the digital divide due to the costs of connecting and providing service.
How do we become more digitally-prosperous?
Broadband’s ability to reach and positively impact households depends on three critical inputs:
What is next when the DSL copper internet service is stopped?
Recently I helped a rural Buncombe County resident of 60+ years with a questions about ‘unexpected errors and messages’ she was receiving while working on her bookkeeping desktop computer.
The Excel spreadsheet occasionally created ‘auto-recovered’ versions that confused her. Then she could not find the file on her local computer’s file system.
Noteworthy: Excel will attempt to autosave and create a recovery version of a file if unexpected computer system events occur, like a power failure or closing the computer without saving a file.
Additionally Microsoft was defaulting to save files to ‘OneDrive’ or Microsoft’s cloud storage instead of the local computer.
Cloud or ‘OneDrive’ file storage needs dependable internet. If your internet speeds are of DSL copper wire or wireless latency, you have lessconfidenceof a timely remote cloud-server save.
Microsoft OneDrive is the Cloud
If you have an older computer and DSL speeds, saving a file the the cloud can be questionable if you are in a hurry. Slow download, upload, and latency can create uncertainty.
Additionally, if the system is trying to protect your local file by putting it to the cloud and you don’t know that ‘OneDrive’ is the cloud; your file could become orphaned from your workflows.
Fiber Broadband 12-Month Promotion
As it turns out, the client’s home had recent street-side digging of a fiber installation. Soon after, the client received a letter offering to get a ‘500Mbps speed’ service for $45 per month for up to 12 months.
The client claimed “$5 higher per month than her current service” from the same major provider.
Features and Benefits of AT&T 500Mbps speed
This client has several major features and benefits with fiber, including these listed on AT&T’s website:
500Mbps equal upload and download speeds
Faster speed and more bandwidth for the always connected household
20x faster upload speeds than cable
Power even more devices so everyone can enjoy their own screen
AT&T Internet Security included
What the promotional USPS promotional letter did NOT Indicate:
How much do you pay for monthly fiber broadband service after 12 months?
What are the taxes and equipment fees?
AT&T Shelving DSL
In October of 2020 AT&T indicated they would start shelving DSL.
“We’re beginning to phase out outdated services like DSL and new orders for the service will no longer be supported after October 1,” a corporate statement sent beforehand read.
“Current DSL customers will be able to continue their existing service or where possible upgrade to our 100% fiber network.”
USA Today’s Rob Pegoraro 2020
Monopolistic Fiber Broadband
This client has 5 options:
Stop copper DSL internet (and phone service) and leverage there cell phones.
Upgrade to cable internet.
Investigate wireless home internet options (slower and less dependable internet than cable)
Consider satellite connectivity, low-earth orbit
Purchase fiber broadband service from the one and only provider in their area
The consumer has no ability easily to benchmark or compare internet service provider pricing options. Likely, the one-year plus pricing for fiber service will be much higher than $45 per month.
Reasonable and Protective-Pricing
Although this client appears to have the financial means to upgrade to fiber, who is advocating for reasonable and protective pricing schemes for this elderly client?
What happens to neighbors that may not have the financial ability to pay for upgraded fiber?
Who provides credible and secure digital education specific to the user’s needs?
What happens to the client’s service if the DSL service fails?
Who advocates for the not-so-current digital tech user?
$7 Million Project Building Out Fiber-Optic Internet Access to Underserved Areas
We salute the growth of quality broadband to the underserved areas of Watauga County North Carolina.
The lack of high-speed internet access in the High Country has been one of the things that the COVID-19 pandemic has uncovered, especially with lots of folks moving to the area and finding out that large, rural parts of the county do not have access to high-speed internet.
For those of us who drive west, you quickly realize the quality and availability of cellular access points becomes more and more remote. The residents and businesses in these areas are also likely to have poorer fixed internet options.
With more and more interactions being required online from governments and related businesses, broadband or high-speed internet can starve individuals and communities of life-necessities of internet connectivity.
Community Broadband Access Points
To connect and communicate through the internet requires internet service providers. Wireless service providers facilitate some coverage, however this is usually at a premium of having a smartphone and sometimes expensive monthly cellular plans, most with contracts. Additionally our mountainous region has geographic limitations for WISP or wireless internet service providers.
Municipalities do provide public access points in their buildings and schools, medical facilities provide public access at most locations, many restaurants provide public access points, and my favorite are communities centers including public libraries.
Escape the Digital Desert for Seniors
School age students have the benefit of digital stewardship at public schools. But what about the senior demographic in Western North Carolina? What do they do if they don’t have a partner, spouse, children, or a community member to steward their digital needs?
It appears significant Federal and State infrastructure monies are coming, including funding to grow digital connectivity and water the digital deserts. How will computer equipment and digital literacy be planned as part of the changing our digital deserts?
Text – H.R.4875 – 117th Congress (2021-2022): To require the Federal Communications Commission to issue a notice of inquiry related to digital redlining, to prohibit digital redlining, and for other purposes. Congress.gov. Published 2021. Accessed August 5, 2021. https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/house-bill/4875/text
WNC Needs To Build Big and Bold Broadband Infrastructure
Why does Western North Carolina need to build big and bold broadband infrastructure?
More connected education
With a once-in-a-generation infrastructure opportunity ahead of us, now is the time to aim higher, do better and invest in technology built to last. For broadband, in many cases that means fiber. Fiber delivers not just what we need today but also holds promise for what will be needed in the future, as more Americans engage in teleworking, remote learning and telehealth, and as our country pursues 5G superiority.
Shirley Bloomfield, CEO, TCA
#WeAgree at the WNC Broadband Project.
Thanks to the @NTCAconnect – the Rural Broadband Association and their Chief Executive Officer @sbloomfield15 Shirley Bloomfield for advocating for #rural #broadband!
The reality, the needed broadband infrastructure to reach all homes; is not in Buncombe County and other Western North Carolina communities; and our local government can’t currently build and lease the infrastructure to providers. Could Senate Bill 689 pass to allow local governments to help?
Love, Wells and others hoping to tap the arriving federal aid are watching various legislative proposals, especially Senate Bill 689, which would allow local governments to build the infrastructure and lease it to providers. The bill would also allow the use of grants, such as the rescue plan.
In the mountains with low populations density and a low customer count, like when rural electrification was implemented; our state needs to allow local governments to create the needed infrastructure where it is geographically too expensive to build broadband networks.