Crossing the Digital Divide: Bringing Internet Access to Rural Communities

Over the last several decades, the internet has revolutionized every aspect of daily life. But as enormous as the possibilities seem, society’s reliance on internet technology does have its limitations.

Internet services are more powerful and diverse in the cities and highly populated areas. Farther out from these urban centers, the less likely accessible high-speed internet becomes. Rural communities often need help getting fast, quality services.

Since internet technology has become such an essential part of modern-day living, governments are taking steps to provide rural areas with the infrastructure needed to obtain those high-speed internet services. 

U.S. Government Invests in Digital Infrastructure

In 2021, the U.S. government passed the Infrastructure Investment Bill and American Jobs Act. This act provides $65 billion for broadband companies to provide the infrastructure needed to supply rural areas with broadband internet services. 

Although this sounds like a big step forward for providing broadband services to more of the country, there are several limiting factors that keep the act from being truly effective. One obstacle is the need for reliable data on where broadband infrastructure is required.

Most of this data comes from the reports of individual states. The time and resources it would take to gather accurate readings on which states need greater broadband infrastructure and where it is required as a whole are enormous. 

Therefore, it’s up to each state how to use this funding — and some might not have the necessary data to allocate those funds correctly. This challenge can leave many rural areas unchanged — or even in worse shape as funds and resources are assigned to different places, incentivizing ISPs to move their business elsewhere. 

Broadband Technology: Bringing Fiber-Optic to Rural Communities

Fiber-optic cables are the revolutionary technology that makes high-speed internet and data transfer possible. These are made of thousands of glass or plastic strands called optical fibers, each optimized to carry as much information as possible. 

While each strand is less than a tenth of a human hair in thickness, each can carry 178 terabits of data per second — enough data for 25,000 telephone calls. Fiber-optic cables move information as lightwaves as it travels down the length of the wire. This allows data to be transmitted literally at the speed of light.

Using fiber-optic technology is the secret to fast internet speeds. However, the ability to establish fiber connections in rural areas is limited. Devising the infrastructure to support fiber-optic networks takes time and resources. An area’s terrain can be a significant obstacle to overcome.

Fortunately, there are ways to implement fiber-optic technology across a wide area. Microtrenching is a technique to expand the reach of fiber-optic cables. This method involves digging narrow trenches 1-2 inches wide and 2 feet deep. These trenches can hold multiple fiber-optic conduits.

These trenches can be easily made on open highways and roads, giving fiber networks more range and flexibility. While this method was first meant for cities, it can extend networks in rural areas by building them along roads instead of through rough terrain. 

Broadband Expansion and Electric Cooperatives

For some rural areas, the lack of broadband internet access is concurrent with the lack of electrical services. In response, electrical cooperatives have begun to offer broadband services to their respective areas. 

These electrical cooperatives provide similar services to electrical companies but on a more local scale. Cooperatives are private, nonprofit organizations that deliver electricity to customers within their service areas. They operate on a cost-of-service basis and return extra profits to the community or invest them in other infrastructure.

Electric cooperatives are uniquely positioned to provide broadband services to rural communities. They typically have many resources to establish a broadband network through electrical operations. The existing infrastructure that includes electricity can also offer broadband. 

These electric cooperatives can also provide mobile communication networks for those communities that don’t have one. Mobile communication is just as crucial as high-speed internet — it makes it easier to keep in touch with others for recreational purposes and in case of emergencies. 

Bridging the Digital Gap Is Important

Ensuring everyone has access to high-speed internet regardless of where they live is a big step forward in the 21st century. Areas with broadband access have various new digital options that can make everyday life easier and more convenient. Using new technologies and methods, the U.S. government is working to ensure all its citizens have access to fiber-optic technology.






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