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Rural America disconnected

I think most folks in our community would agree that one of the biggest challenges we face deals with technology — or more specifically, the lack of technology, especially in areas outside the city limits of Oxford.

While some areas of Oxford still deal with this problem, the lack of high-speed internet in rural Lafayette County is a concern on several levels.

Last week’s disruption of internet service locally for several hours is a good example of how connected or how much we rely upon broadband internet. Granted the issue was not caused by the internet provider, but rather a wayward 18-wheeler that took down crucial lines. Still, most of the local area was knocked off the World Wide Web for several hours while the problem was fixed.

I read a very interesting article last week from the Wall Street Journal (Rural America Is Stranded in the Dial-Up Age) that dealt in depth with the challenges rural America faces without reliable or inefficient high-speed internet service.

According to the WSJ article, “Rural counties with more households connected to broadband had higher incomes and lower unemployment than those with fewer, according to a 2015 study by university researchers in Oklahoma, Mississippi and Texas who compared rural counties before and after getting high-speed internet service.”

The article also pointed out that “About 39% of the U.S. rural population, or 23 million people, lack access to broadband internet service — defined as “fast” by the Federal Communications Commission —compared with 4% of the urban residents.”

That’s a huge difference.

Many rural schools are directly impacted by the lack of broadband internet. Businesses and industries in rural portions of America also face a disadvantage when competing with firms in big cities or less rural communities. And entrepreneurs who are self-employed in rural areas and rely upon high-speed internet to make transactions also must deal with this issue.

There are several factors for this great divide between rural America and urban areas, but the biggest issue is cost. Most rural areas are too spread out. It costs roughly $30,000 a mile to install optical fiber cable, according to industry estimates, to trench and secure right-of-way access.

MaxxSouth, the local internet provider most use, has been in the process of connecting more areas of the county. I’m confident they will get the job done, but it will be a long process.

Our world is so connected these days, that having internet service is as vital today as electricity became in the previous century. During the Great Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt made it a priority to connect rural America with electricity and by the mid-50s, most of America was electrified.

Many are hoping President Donald Trump will do something similar to create rural broadband service with his trillion dollar infrastructure plan.

I for one hope the President does devote a good portion of infrastructure funds to rural high-speed internet and bring that area of America into the 21st Century.

Rob Sigler is managing editor of The Oxford EAGLE. Contact him at rob.sigler@oxfordeagle.com.