Getting broadband to unserved rural areas is one of the toughest challenges we face. It’s far easier to make a business case to serve 500 people per square mile than it is where there are only five people per square mile. Broadband is expensive to deploy through hundreds of miles of countryside, including mountains, canyons, forests and deserts. But that’s our challenge.
The Broadband Opportunity Council report the White House released today lays the groundwork to build on the tremendous success of deploying broadband under the Recovery Act, which helped USDA and the Commerce Department expand essential broadband service nationwide. Yet even with this historical investment, we have much more to do.
Our work with the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications Information Administration and about 25 federal agency representatives identified federal regulatory and funding barriers to broadband expansion. If we are to deploy broadband to the 50 percent of rural areas without access to high-speed service, we will need to work hard and work closely with our federal partners and private stakeholders to encourage buildout and adoption.
The rewards are great. For example, one of our Recovery Act broadband projects in Western North Carolina brings people off the mountain so they can use newly connected facilities in an old library, helps troops overseas watch their kids play baseball via a ballfield with internet access, and makes it easier for families to virtually visit Granny while she enjoys her chicken dinner at the local nursing home.
USDA’s Rural Utilities Service funds rural utilities across the country. Rural electric cooperatives, telecommunications systems and water and waste facilities have the connections and expertise in their communities to deliver services that increase the quality of life for rural residents. RUS borrowers have been and will continue to be the heroes that get the job done. So in the days ahead as we work toward implementing the goals spelled out in this report, I am looking for our rural stakeholders to offer guidance, expertise and partnership in delivering broadband in areas lacking high speed internet service.