The immediate future of rural broadband may be mobile

In our discussions of broadband and internet connectivity, we should not place blinders on our vision. We need to remember that Broadband access comes in many forms, including Digital Subscriber Line (“DSL”), cable modem access, fixed and mobile wireless, satellite Internet, and Fiber to the Home (“FTTH”), WiMax, or Wi-Fi. There may be others.

  • In England, some companies, like LTE and Google, are performing tests on mobile technology for broadband to rural communities.  “Mobile broadband on the other hand operates via the mobile phone network and therefore doesn’t rely on a fixed line connection. The hope is that the increased mobile broadband speed offered by 4G will enable more users in rural areas to have access to a high speed broadband connection.
  • Korea has focused on FTTH.
  • Companies in China are researching and developing WiMax capabilities for its rural outreaches.
  • Virgin is testing broadband over power poles in Wales which “marks the first use of existing commercial infrastructure to aerially deliver ultra-fast broadband to a community currently beyond the reach of a fibre optic network.

Obviously, FTTH is optimal medium at this point; however, universal FTTH may not be financially feasible for the near future. (Overall, the U.S. lags well behind Korea, Japan, and Hong Kong in FTTH according to this report.)  The immediate future then for rural broadband may be mobile; accordingly, we might consider fostering an increase in mobile-type capacity to fill the gap until FTTH gradually rolls out to the countryside.  Accordingly, we must actively pursue and investigate all options.

Costs of investment, internet speed, affordability for consumers must be included in our calculus. One thing is for sure: Alabama should not be dependent on a single form of delivery. A healthy telecommunications system will provide for disruptions in one delivery medium with immediate replacement capacity in another form.

I would like to see a map prepared which overlays land-line connectivity with existing cellular radio coverage. (Most of Clay County, Randolph, Cleburne, and large swaths of Chambers do not have any cell coverage, at all, which is a problem all by itself)  Such a map would reveal the true extent of our un-connectedness.

Let us remember that “infrastructure” in the twenty-first century means much more than roads and bridges.  Leadership is said to be seeing further down the road than those around you.

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One response to “The immediate future of rural broadband may be mobile

  1. Greg, Are you familiar with this Alabama company? It’s headquartered in Huntsville:

    http://www.ibec.net/

    “IBEC partners with electric utilities to provide BPL services via the power lines and then uses a BPL modem to deliver Internet access to your computer at data rates comparable to or greater than those of DSL and cable modems. And since there are no new wires to install, setup is simple and easy.”

    I wish that the Alabama Broadband Initiative was paying more attention to Alabama companies who are addressing the rural broadband problem.

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