You are not logged in. LOG IN NOW >

Broadband is Life

BY Nancy Scola | Thursday, August 20 2009

It can be challenging to get people worked up to the appropriate level of passion over the importance of connecting Americans to high speed broadband Internet. Health insurance, "death panels" -- these things move the soul. Upload vs. downloads speeds and megabits-per-dollar can seem, well, bloodless.

That's a shame. At the same time the United States is obsessed with the debate over health care reform, it's also crafting the country's first ever plan to connect its citizens to high-speed Internet. Health reform and broadband reform share many of the same exciting factors. Entrenched interests with their tentacles wrapped around official Washington. Outdated business models. Convoluted incentives. Sure, health reform is objectively more important. Still, one wonders if the competing levels of interest in the debates are skewed even worse than their relative importances.

Part of the problem, of course, is that those best equipped to testify about how not having broadband drags on them aren't connected to the high-speed Internet. Thus, they aren't heard from as much. But that's why we have reports from the USDA! The agency is out with a new "twin" study that compares places in the rural U.S. of similar size and demographics, but one with broadband and one without. More broadband, finds the USDA, means more jobs and higher wages. ArsTechnica's Matthew Laser has the story.

I once, while writing a piece for the Center for American Progress on getting the economics of rural broadband to work, got a chance to interview people in Rose Hill, Virginia -- population 700 or so. (Oh, you want a link? Here you go.). Rose Hill is deep, deep in Appalachia. The Internet got there in 2006. (The state official spearheading that effort was, not incidentally, Aneesh Chopra, now U.S. CIO.)

What was amazing is that when I asked Rose Hill-ians what changed when the high-speed Internet came, the response was generally a pause and then, "Well, everything." What sort of work opportunities open up. Whether young people want to stay and build lives in Rose Hill. How many people turn out for the annual Black Bear Blast. Important stuff. Life changing stuff. Which you can forget when you're ambling through Brooklyn or Washington DC and are rarely not in a broadband hotspot, if not overlapping ones.

(Photo of broadband by satellite on California's Elk Flat Ranch by Gino.)