New Report Spotlights The Rural West’s Connectivity Gap
A report published this week by the National Association of Counties found that more than 75% of rural counties had internet and cellular connections that fell well below minimum government standards. The problem is especially acute in the Mountain West. For the most part, only wealthy enclaves like Jackson, Wyoming, have good broadband, the study’s connectivity maps show.
Arthur Scott, a co-author of the report, said that without connectivity, everyone, from ranchers to rural health care workers, suffers.
“Those services are absolutely in need of high-speed internet to be efficient and effective in those efforts,” he said.
With slow or spotty connections, communities and businesses struggle to thrive. Scott says the problem is partly due to the broadband industry giving the Federal Communications Commission flawed data that suggests connections are better.
“Without substantive changes to the data collection process, removal of local barriers and the reclassification of broadband as a utility — no less important than water and electricity — the digital divide will only continue to grow,” the report states.
Last August, the FCC approved a plan to improve broadband mapping data to better identify where broadband service is lacking. And this week, the agency began soliciting public comment on its Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, which will make up to $16 billion available to support high-speed broadband networks across rural America.
“Any money is better than no money,” said Scott. “But trying to say right now, with such flawed data collection, that any amount of money is going to be enough is not correct.”
That said, both the FCC and Congress are making strides towards improving the collection of data from broadband companies, according to Scott.
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City, KUNR in Nevada, the O’Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado. Follow Nate Hegyi on Twitter @natehegyi.