Go ahead – look for Carroll County Indiana, and see where it falls in the spectrum of available broadband internet access. I’ll wait.

As someone who lives and works on a farm, the lack of sufficient internet access and speed is a crippling restriction on rural and agriculture growth.  As an example, until recently, my broadband speed was 6 Mbs (that’s SIX).   I work from home and have people coming in and out all the time – many of whom bring their computers and devices as part of the work we are doing together.  At the moment I have 3 desktop computers in my office (I have two interns this summer), each person has a cell phone with wireless access, and we have several tablets around the house performing different functions.  Even the thermostats are connected to the Internet (i.e., the Internet of Things).  All of this on 6 Mbs!

Recently, we have arranged for a significant upgrade (from 6 to 25 x 2), but that is only because we are using two separate providers, and I have a spouse who knows how to make that work for us.  While this is an expensive proposition, we believe that it is not an optional investment.  This extra capacity will soon be deployed farm-wide and will include wireless devices in trucks that can communicate with stationary farm equipment, cameras deployed farm-wide for monitoring crops and for security, additional computers in the farm shop for connection to ordering parts and for access to online manuals for repairs.

Note:  The video above defines broadband as speeds of at least 25 Mbs.

Our closest small town boasts home-consumer speeds of 100 Mbs from one of the providers.  I know that cities have many times more than that speed delivered to homes.  We are at a point where speed is not just nice for watching video, it is necessary for commerce and communication.  One of my neighbors recently was forced to move his workspace to town, because he could not get enough speed to run his business from his home.  He lives less than a mile from me (across the field, as the crow flies).

While I was heartened that the Indiana General Assembly passed SB 356 calling for the improvement of rural broadband, I was disappointed that the bill changed from a minimum requirement of 20 Mbs to 10 Mbs.  In today’s world of HD video, Internet of Things, and multiple devices per person, 10 Mbs is too-low a floor.

We need support for the local providers – the REMCs who were on the forefront of bringing electricity to rural areas in my grandmother’s day – to allow them the funding to invest in providing rural internet speeds that provide the capacity we need to run our homes and businesses.  We need to put the rural businesses at the table for these discussions.   Not just the heavy-hitters of urban industries in the target counties, but the farmers and small business people in the rural areas that are hampered in their business by the dismal speeds available.

Here is Microsoft’s announcement an initiative last year to help develop infrastructure in Rural Areas.  Their proposal seems to be achievable and reproducible in many areas.  Sadly, one of their target states was NOT my home state of Indiana, but I will be interested to see how that project progresses.

Finally, here a link to the article that got me started this post (thanks, Joe), and which talks about the significant economic component in rural broadband investment, in terms of local business, local economy, and even the prices in residential markets.

Measuring Broadband’s (Public) Return on Investment.

Did you find my county in the image above?  I’ll give you a hint:  it is colored as having less than 33% penetration for rural broadband.

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