With the closure of schools across Western North Carolina, families have been forced to adapt in the face of critical gaps in broadband service, in order to ensure that their students can participate in remote learning. A recent Asheville Citizen-Times article by Brian Gordon examines the impact of these obstacles to online learning in WNC and follows the story of the McGoverns, whose three school-age children have to complete their coursework using the hot spot on their mother’s cellphone. To learn more about how the McGoverns and other families like them are confronting the barriers to broadband access, visit the Asheville Citizen-Times.
Shira Ovide, the writer of the New York Times On Tech newsletter talks to Cecilia Kang, a Times technology journalist, about our country’s unaddressed digital divide, particularly as it affects our rural communities. To read “Why Rural America’s Digital Divide Persists,” visit the New York Times.
The NC Rural Center will host a five-part series on key issues facing rural North Carolina. The first conversation will focus on Broadband accessibility, affordability and inclusion; this panel session will take place on Thursday, 7 May, at 11 am. The panelists include: Jody Huestess, Vice President for Marketing and Customer Care, ATMC; Robert Hosford, Executive Director for Rural Development, USDA; and Jeff Sural, Director of the Broadband Infrastructure Office, NC Department of Information Technology. To learn more about this series and to register for the Broadband session, visit the NC Rural Center website.
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.