Sunday, September 19, 2010

Narrowband Wastelands? Of rural America, death spirals, and the Narrow Belt

Looking back they will say: "It could have been avoided." They will say: "If only the government had been more effective, if only the telecommunication conglomerates had been less greedy."

Somewhere it will be noted that, back in the Fall of 2010, somebody wrote:

Narrowband wastelandThe fact that tens of millions of people living in America's rural communities lack adequate access to broadband services (data, video, voice over Internet) is painfully apparent when you drive beyond the suburbs.

Some rural communities have broadband, others do not. Some of the latter are waiting to receive expanded broadband access that is being created with the help of federal stimulus spending, others are not.

And for this last group, the places that didn't make the cut for stimulus grants, the places that appear to be of zero interest to the nation's telecomm companies, the future looks grim. Such places may be destined to become narrowband wastelands, stagnant economic backwaters.

The fact is, during the last five years broadband has become an essential part of our national infrastructure, the dominant channel of communication for industry, enterprise, employment, medicine, government, education, and entertainment. Communities that do not have access to broadband are increasingly considered "off the grid" and out of the mainstream. In short, not the kind of place in which your kids or grand-kids will want to live or work.

By 2015 you will have trouble selling or renting any property that does not have access to broadband, and that means lower property values, which means lower tax revenues, which will impact schools and infrastructure, which will further reduce property values. In short, a death spiral.

Those patches and swathes of America's countryside where the only Internet access options are dialup or satellite will become narrowband wastelands: The Narrow Belt. This Narrow Belt faces a spiral of accelerating economic decline at least as pernicious as that which devastated the Rust Belt.

Sure, if you lower your prices you still may be able to sell or rent in the Narrow Belt, but only to members of that increasingly rare group of people who think that Internet technology is just a passing fad, an unnecessary distraction, or a violation of some divine plan. We all know that is a rapidly shrinking pool of potential property buyers (with the possible exception of the Amish, who are expanding their rural holdings).

Furthermore, but often overlooked, there is this fact: Even those people who have no personal interest in broadband are aware that most other people do. Even the unconnected can see that connection adds value, lack of connection subtracts. Face it, as a factor in property valuation, access to broadband is here to stay; confinement to narrowband is now a form of property blight.

We are approaching the fourth quarter of 2010. The federal broadband stimulus funds have been allocated. If your home or community does not yet have access to broadband and is not part of a stimulus-backed broadband build-out, you need to start thinking about the alternatives (if you have not already). As I explore these alternatives, I will keep you posted.

The only way to save rural America from becoming a narrowband wasteland may be for the people who live there to take matters into their own hands. Let us hope they do so in a constructive way.

Notes:

A. Satellite Internet: For a variety of technical reasons, which I will be describing in my forthcoming whitepaper, satellite should be considered narrowband and not broadband. The latency of satellite Internet is worse than dialup and satellite's capacity constraints and bandwidth caps mean high speed data transfers are only available in short bursts. As providers like HughesNet state themselves, satellite is not recommend for, or does not support, five technologies at the core of any functional definition od broadband: streaming video, VPN, VoIP, real-time trading, and large file downloads like security patches and other software updates for operating systems and productivity applications.

B. The Amish: I am not qualified to comment on what the Amish think of the Internet, but I have a strong hunch you will see a correlation between expansion of Amish farms and the narrowband wasteland.

1 comment:

  1. *sigh* I live on a road without access to broadband. As a 15 year old, this is a tragedy in my eyes. We are surrounded by broadband, yet as you stated above "if only the telecommunication conglomerates had been less greedy", our road wouldn't be cost effective. Our telephone lines are too new for DSL (fiber-optic or whatever), and there are no cable lines. We have Hughes Net. It's a ripoff. They take advantage of people who have no choice. The general price of DSL is about 20 dollars a month. Hughes Net is 60 dollars a month... for the lowest package. Higher packages can cost 200 dollars a month... for service no where near as good as DSL/cable. Our Daily Download Limit is 200Mb (really?). I have no hope of getting better internet.

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