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Broadband: The Last Mile October 31, 2006

Posted by Tom in Community, Economic Development, Technology, Workforce.

The last mile” is undoubtedly the most challenging part of any municipal infrastructure project. The Wikipedia entry delves into much greater detail about the challenges of the last mile, and I strongly suggest that readers check this out. Their introduction sets the stage:

The last mile is the final leg of delivering connectivity from a communications provider to a customer. Usually referred to by the telecommunications and cable television industries, it is typically seen as an expensive challenge because “fanning out” wires and cables is a considerable physical undertaking.

It’s an even tougher undertaking when the last mile involves wiring rural areas. When the fanning out isn’t to a number of individual homes in a subdivision but a smaller group of homes in a rural setting, the challenge is even more expensive and the physical undertaking even more exhausting.

In the case of broadband-driven telecommunications, it doesn’t have to be that way. In our wireless world, a municipal Wireless Local Area Network (also known as WiFi) is a possibility. Not to mention another form called WiMAX. (Satellite TV providers like DirecTV also offer broadband on an individual basis.) I’ve blogged about municipal WiFi networks before (here, here and here), but the WiMAX concept hasn’t been explored on this site.

Under cover of a wonderfully-titled blog entry (“Broadband to the Boonies“) , Web Worker Daily shares with us a possible solution that can make the country – and world – truly connected. While WWD takes the perspective of the telecommuter who wants to live in a rural or exurban setting, I’ll take the approach of the rural worker who wants to tap into the global economy.

Many of us take the internet for granted. For those who don’t have it, the internet represents promise. One can obtain skills from the world’s foremost instructors. They can develop markets to ship products to foreign lands. They can create social and professional networks that will allow them to collaborate in virtual teams with others from around the world. And it’s a fact that fewer rural residents (24%) have broadband internet access than urban/suburban residents (39%). This problem is real – a real example of the digital divide.

That companies like AT&T are serious about trying to bridge that gap represents a great deal of hope on both the economic development and workforce fronts. With a solid digital infrastructure, our rural areas have a real chance to compete with the world.

[UPDATE] The [Microenterprise] Journal Blog continues to discuss the challenges in delivering broadband into rural America. Among other important rural economic development considerations, the author mentions the workforce possibilities:

[Rural broadband] would bring in the telecommunications infrastructure that would make the area more attractive to that mobile IT workforce and it would create some good jobs in those rural communities. Frankly, it would make more sense to me for Delaware County, NY to be talking about setting up municipal wireless broadband (or the rural equivalent of ‘municipal’) than it does for San Francisco and Philadelphia to be doing it.

And, at that point, about the only thing those small villages would be missing would be Starbucks.



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