UPDATE: Sen. McCaskill: Rural areas need broadband

Friday, June 25, 2010 | 1:17 p.m. CDT

TROY — Access to broadband Internet is no longer a luxury, it's a necessity, and rural areas need more of it, Sen. Claire McCaskill and others said Friday.

The Missouri Democrat and Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski hosted a Rural Broadband Forum in Troy, about 50 miles north of St. Louis. About 100 people attended.

Technology usually arrives last in rural areas — electricity, telephone service. McCaskill cited statistics showing that only about two-fifths of rural Americans have broadband Internet.

"Right now, rural areas are getting left behind as it relates to broadband adoption," McCaskill said. "Without fast speeds to the Internet, our commerce, our job creation in this country is going to continue to fall behind."

In March, the FCC unveiled a sweeping proposal to overhaul broadband policy, with the goal of providing high-speed Internet access to underserved areas of the country and to make existing connections even faster.

Genachowski said there are challenges in rural areas, but extending broadband is vital for businesses, emergency responders, health care providers and residents.

"The rest of the world is not standing still," Genachowski said. "If we stand still or move slowly, we're falling behind."

Internet providers agree access in rural areas needs to be improved. At issue is how to go about it.

Walter McCormick, president of the U.S. Telecom Association that represents telephone and Internet companies, said tremendous progress has been made. Eight years ago, about 8 million Americans had access to broadband, now about 300 million have that access and he said getting broadband to the rest is the hard part.

"The distances that are involved and the remoteness of reaching them makes it difficult to construct a viable business plan without some form of government assistance," McCormick said in a telephone interview. "There needs to be some form of public assistance."

At the forum, some questioned why the FCC plan sets a goal of 100 megabytes of broadband for urban areas and just 4 megabytes for rural areas.

"It would be a huge divide," said Brian Cornelius, president of Citizens Telephone in Higginsville, which provides phone and Internet service to about 3,500 customers in western Missouri. "Rural areas are struggling now. We can't have that."

Genachowski said the proposal is a starting point to get some level of broadband throughout the country. He said it would be reviewed regularly "to see how fast we can take that up without busting the budget."

Lincoln County Fire Protection District Chief Mike Cherry said high-speed Internet can be crucial in fires and other disasters.

"The faster we can transmit information, the faster we can get help on the way," Cherry said. "It's endless possibilities for emergency response."

Terry Morrow, superintendent of schools for Lincoln County, said students without broadband face the prospect of falling behind. He said the technology has many applications — kids home sick can receive information straight from a classroom computerized blackboard; schools that can't afford or attract specialty teachers can still provide access to them via electronic hookup with a district that can.

"It saves the taxpayers money, it gives the kids another opportunity, and I don't see how that's bad for anyone," Morrow said.

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John Schultz June 25, 2010 | 11:15 p.m.

Typical, people saying they "need" broadband and expect the government (aka my tax dollars and yours) to fund it. Genachowski is possibly the biggest joker to chair the FCC in ages, and not just due to this issue.

(Report Comment)
Tim Dance June 26, 2010 | 1:02 a.m.

Leave it to the libertarians and rural folks would be living in the dark. Thank goodness for the REA and the federal government's help with that. Looks like the same old silly "government shouldn't get involved" argument from 75 years ago.

Hey if we can give IBM a "free" home, we can help rural homes and businesses with a competitive edge.

Get it done, Claire

(Report Comment)
John Schultz June 27, 2010 | 12:33 p.m.

You mean like the REA's demand that there be at least three customers per mile in order to loan tax money and build a line?

Might require clicking on the It All Started With a Letter section to see this.

Mind you, I find it amusing that a liberal is praising the REA when electric cooperatives are one of the larger groups fighting cap and trade and similar legislation in Washington D.C.

Tim, do you also think the federal government should give us all iPhones? What about those people who can't afford them? Is that any different than subsidized network buildouts? Why should the feds hand out money to phone companies to provide money to their outlying customers? Should the company and/or customers be responsible for that cost?

I don't know my history of the electric companies very well, but I can guarantee you that the telephony and network market is anything but free.

(Report Comment)
Tim Dance June 27, 2010 | 11:36 p.m.

Please John, enough with the libertarian extrapolations. What a tired argument. Didn't know IPhone was a matter of infrastructure? To imply that the having access to HS Internet is just a luxury makes you look very naive. Rural businesses are having a hard of tough time competing. Narrow minded libertarianism will doom these rural communities. Time to help small businesses, not the socialistic corporations.

Don't listen to the tea party people or the Libertarians Claire, do what's right.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz June 28, 2010 | 10:18 a.m.

OK then Tim, why don't you tell me where the line is between luxuries that people should buy with their own money and what you think government should provide and/or subsidize for us? Do you think government should be involved in providing cellular coverage since that's infrastructure? How about trash service? Water and sewage? Electricity? Because you know what, I'm getting most of that from a non-governmental source seeing as how I live in Free Boone County. Oh yeah, and my Internet as well, thank you very much.

(Report Comment)
Gregg Bush June 28, 2010 | 11:00 a.m.

There is an argument to be made that broadband could be part The Commons. There is an argument to be made that rural broadband could be nothing more than corporate welfare.
I would be okay with spending money to create a high-speed information highway like Eisenhower spent money making high speed motor highways. It seems less like corporate welfare and more like an investment.

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield June 28, 2010 | 12:36 p.m.

It's not as if rural operators don't already get taxpayer subsidies for broadband. That's one of the reasons why, despite perceptions to the contrary, many rural businesses and consumers already have fiber-based services:

BTW, Walt McCormick is an MU grad.

(Report Comment)

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