The importance of rural broadband access and wireless coverage is a timely issue – not only in America’s heartland, but also in our nation’s capital. Stories from rural areas about improved access, applications, and other uses are popping up. Meanwhile, the Senate Communications Subcommittee used its first hearing of the new Congress to address the State of Rural Communications, and data in the FCC’s recently released wireless competition report shows that voice and broadband access in rural areas is on the rise.
There have been many reports, like this piece in Iowa Farmer Today, that demonstrate growth in the use of smartphones and wireless broadband in rural communities, especially by farmers and ranchers. The piece states that apps are becoming “an increasing part of farming operations, for crops and livestock.” And it’s no wonder. A simple read through some of the apps that are being developed and it’s easy to understand their enormous utility for American farmers and ranchers. From apps that help to effectively manage pests and plant pathogens, to apps that help with energy efficiency by tracking fuel usage, the possibilities are almost endless.
Farmers and ranchers aren’t the only ones in rural communities who benefit from wireless devices and wireless broadband. Wireless products and technologies also allow Americans in rural communities to have greater access to healthcare through telemedicine, greater access to educational opportunities through online courses, and greater opportunities to grow their businesses through e-commerce. Those are just naming a few.
However, the benefits of apps and wireless broadband can only be realized by those who have access to them. Fortunately, the FCC’s wireless competition report shows that access is continuing to improve. According to the report, which was released in late March, “97 percent of the U.S. rural population has coverage by at least one mobile wireless broadband provider, up from 92 percent in November 2009.”
One program in particular is interesting in that it showcases how the largest carrier is working with rural carriers to bring LTE to rural communities. This is Verizon Wireless’ LTE in Rural America program. As of March, VZW was working with 21 carriers in an effort to cover about 2.8 million people in 14 states. Between VZW’s LTE equipment and 700 MHz spectrum, and the rural carriers tower and backhaul assets, the partnerships are helping rural carriers to build and operate their own LTE networks – 7 of which have already launched.
While there is still work to be done to ensure that all Americans in rural communities have access to mobile broadband, the outlook is positive. Broadband providers are stepping up with creative ways to serve unserved communities, and those communities are utilizing that service to adopt new, innovative applications tailored to their lives. It's no wonder the issue has drawn the attention of Congress.