Why City Folks Must Fight For Rural Broadband

Category: Telephony

The major ISPs and the federal government have utterly failed in their duty to provide broadband service to rural Americans. If you live in a city or suburban area with excellent Internet service, should you care? The answer is YES. Read on to find out why extending high-speed Internet to wide-open spaces could put more money in your pocket...

The Case For Rural Broadband

Some 68 million rural citizens have only one choice for phone, television, and Internet service at download speeds of 25 Mbps or faster: Comcast (30 million) or Charter Communications (38 million). Both rank in the bottom half of Consumer Reports’ latest survey of consumer perceptions of value received from their broadband providers.

Even worse off are many Americans for whom DSL service delivered over century-old copper wire networks is the only option. The telephone companies have largely avoided upgrading their obsolete copper networks in rural areas where they face no competition from cable companies. They get away with this dereliction of their statutory duty by overstating the availability of broadband in their service areas.

The broadband availability data upon which the FCC relies comes from Form 477, a standardized method of reporting that all ISPs must submit to the FCC twice a year. But the Institute for Local Self-Reliance points out four ways in which Form 477 is flawed and can be gamed by the ISPs who complete it. For instance, an ISP can claim it provides broadband to an entire Census Block even if it provides broadband to only one residence in that block.


The watchdog General Accounting Office says the FCC vastly overstates broadband availability on Native American tribal lands, which makes it more difficult for residents to get money allocated to help them build broadband networks.

Ah, but you live in an “urban” area, what might be called “the big city” out there in the sticks. So what does it matter to you if Mule Shoe, Texas, has lousy broadband service? Read on and I will explain how this failure of rural broadband has taken money out of your pocket and will take more in the future. I argue that it is in your best interest to join your country cousins in their lobbying efforts to get more and better broadband options.

Here in the 21st Century, broadband is a decisive resource in one’s ability to create a bearable life, not just to compete for the best that life has to offer. Without broadband, rural residents are cut off from all the information, tools, and communications channels that city folk take for granted (until a sunspot causes a temporary Internet outage. Then city slickers run in circles crying, “The sky is falling, aliens have landed!”) For rural residents, broadband is the difference between fully participating in the global economy and trading zucchini for chickens with one’s immediate neighbors.

Is Slow Internet Depopulating Rural Areas?

Most young people balk at such a limited existence, and move to urban areas in search of the American dream. The availability and quality of broadband service plays a large role in modern families’ choice of location, perhaps as large as the quality of local schools. Families and single people tend to concentrate around areas where broadband is the best.

These people demand not only broadband but also housing, roads, electricity, sewer systems, supermarkets and restaurants, and all the other amenities that you compete to buy. When many people concentrate in a limited geographic area, their concentrated demand drives up prices for everything.

It's true that many young people are leaving rural communities, but it's not because it takes too long to upload a photo to Instagram. They leave for education and better job opportunities. But many of them miss the sense of community in small towns, contact with nature, and safe places to raise a family.

If broadband providers were forced to build out their best networks to rural areas, as they are supposed to be forced by law, then rural dwellers would have access to online learning, tele-health services and jobs via telecommuting.

With ubiquitous high-speed Internet, people would not concentrate in urban areas and demand would subside to a new equilibrium point. Prices of everything from gas to houses would come down. So says traditional free market theory, anyway.

So, dear reader, it behooves you to belabor your dully (sic) elected legislative representatives, from city council to Washington, DC, with the message, “Get broadband to rural America now!”

Your thoughts on this issue are welcome. Please leave them in the comments below.

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Most recent comments on "Why City Folks Must Fight For Rural Broadband"

(See all 28 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

21 Sep 2018

I live in rural AZ. The only choice we have for television is Dish or Direct TV, which is way overpriced...I pay 130 a month. Internet service is provided by Hughes.net, which costs me 105 per month. Both plans are priced just one step from the bottom. The phone company here in this area does not offer internet service.

Posted by:

21 Sep 2018

I live in Jefferson Co, Al, and I know what you are going thru. when I moved here 10 years ago my only choice was Hughes internet 5mb & Directv. with in the last year we finley got high speed internet from AT&T up to one gigabit. I am paying $50/mo for 100mb and getting 125mb up & down. They installed giga-fiber with in the last year we live in the lower income area and the installers said they we got the high speed before the rich side.

Posted by:

21 Sep 2018

I live in rural AZ. The only choice Direct TV OR DISH. The phone company Century Link LINK offer in my
area internet service. Supposedly fiber optic is less than 1 mille away on East side. But West side it is at ¾ mille.
My service is 1.5 mbps on average. Fews time …4 mbps. Day 9 to 10 or sometime 2 to 3.30 p.m. I will receive up to 3.0 mbps. Many days I get less then then 0.70 mbps & quite often I receive no service at all.
Each year they not forget to raised my monthly internet service of 17 to 20 % cost almost anyway if I was signed for fast internet 5 years no increase guaranteed, now my monthly charge bill is $67.47 for internet and phone bill in extra $12.60 plus tax the total Phone bill and Internet is $ 86.17 monthly. The cable company are also a miles away so Century Link as monopolistic situation for almost 8 years state the service will be upgraded with optic fiber… This is continually a lying because we are trap in situation when the politician get pay to look the other side. Bob you right the joke of th FCC relies comes from Form 477 where the tricks superfine contortions they male a geographic point at the extreme part of the power transmission and state the global area, but if the service is available only a the first lucky customer to have it al the rural community is referred to be serviced.

Posted by:

21 Sep 2018

Here in rural Wayne County, Ohio we finally moved up from dial-up to DSL on copper from something Edison personally used I think. We cruise along @ 10 Mbps routinely. I viewed the internet buildout maps of Ohio and it shows us at 25 Mbps? I think that proves Bob's point.

We dropped our Century Link provider package (sole provider or phone/internet) and use internet only, a big $10 savings at $55/month. Repair staff told me the copper in the box is horrible and needs replacing. Good luck on that one. I also read that CL can abandon sections in a provision of some new law. Can't say that is fact but have no expectation of any upgrade of this system in my lifetime.

When my wife retires and we move back home to PA part of our choice of residence will hinge on internet service, again as Bob notes above. Spot on Bob, kudos to you, this article hit the mark with me.

Posted by:

Sarah L
21 Sep 2018

Hey, Nathan, your rural situation was exactly like my very urban situation using DSL from AT&T, as to speed and prices over copper wires. Now, after over a year of waiting for it, I have Internet 100 at the same price. It required new infrastructure, being all fiber optic cable, with new wiring (cabling?) installed in every unit of the building in which I live. The building was then connected to the nearest fiber optic "box". I think it is a special program to get high speed broadband to apartment buildings (mine is a condo building, but looks just like an apartment building ;-)) in this large metro area. Competition is spotty across the area, and never more than two providers. For now, the price is the same as the old DSL service, $50 a month to see 100 to 120 Mbps show up on a speed test.
Do we need another Works Progress Administration to get broadband nationwide, in mountainous areas as well flat ones, rural and very urban? Just a thought, as the quasi private sector is not seeing this in a way useful to the whole nation.

Posted by:

Ken H
21 Sep 2018

Thanks for addressing an issue I have been bitching about for at least 12 years. When we moved here (rural WA) there was ADSL or satellite. The supposed competition was between (now) Century Link and "local" Gorge net (same lines same crappy service, just a mostly useless local complaint department.) Top speed was 1.5MBPS. While that speed occasionally was reached it was more often below 0.5MBPS and as the years passed it sunk below dialup speeds daily.....several times a day!
My present recourse is HughesNet, satellite service that may reach 15MBPS, but the data limit soon reached resets that to about 0.5MBPS, but rarely below that. Fast enough (usaually.....barely) to stream SD content.
America deserves better IMNSHO
@Paul F- how many yeas will those lines be used? A one time cost is not in the least reflective of the value of a product or service.

Posted by:

Gary Groves
21 Sep 2018

Charter/Spectrum - Believe it or not, I have excellent Internet Service from them in the Hiawatha National Forest. With my Amplifi router, I have consistently been getting speeds of 115 meg. I understand there will be competition coming in the form of 5G. Forget sattelite.

Posted by:

21 Sep 2018

"These people demand not only broadband but also housing, roads, electricity, sewer systems, supermarkets and restaurants, and all the other amenities that you compete to buy. When many people concentrate in a limited geographic area, their concentrated demand drives up prices for everything." --> Concentrated demand drives down prices due to efficiency of scale. Lower costs of supplying services where the infrastructure is already built, and a greater concentration of customers reduces resources to deliver the services.

"With ubiquitous high-speed Internet, people would not concentrate in urban areas and demand would subside to a new equilibrium point. Prices of everything from gas to houses would come down. So says traditional free market theory, anyway." --> It costs more to run gas, Internet, etc. to rural areas, not less.

"...city folk take for granted (until a sunspot causes a temporary Internet outage. Then city slickers run in circles crying, “The sky is falling, aliens have landed!”)" --> This statement belies an animosity toward 'city folk.' If you want better access for rural folks, just say so. But don't pretend that it will lower costs for anyone. It is very expensive to deliver those services, and you are just wanting urban people to subsidize those costs in their rates. Just tell it like it is without the spin.

And, you conveniently left out the fact that all rural folks have access to satellite Internet service (and that's probably why your article limited its discussion to 25mbps or higher).

Posted by:

Kenneth Heikkila
21 Sep 2018

??? @Gary Groves: You think we have cable in the woods of rural WA??? Hilarious! Like I would be on satellite if I had the choice of cable or any wired service besides non-existant, nearly worthless ADSL.

Posted by:

dennis werth
21 Sep 2018

Clyde - 144.5 mbps UPLOAD?
I question that speed.

Posted by:

21 Sep 2018

It seems that the introduction of autonomous vehicles will make high-speed wireless ubiquitous.

Posted by:

Jon S
21 Sep 2018

Thank you Bob. Well said. The implications of it all are quite scary.

Posted by:

22 Sep 2018

Vote in November! Take note of who controls the FCC and therefore who is favored in its decisions. Who is receiving the biggest bribe (campaign) donations from the big ISP's?

Posted by:

Joe W.
22 Sep 2018

Bob Rankin, this is the best article you've ever written; it hits home on all points here in Royston, GA.! AT&T sends us solicitations all the time to sign up for 100mps guaranteed; but there aren't any fiber optic cables where we live; the most we ever see is maybe 3mps max. We've had DSL for twenty to twenty-five years; it's speed has gone down over time, not up!

There is a local company which started in the last couple of years which advertises providing fast internet service over the airwaves (not satellite service); this could never be a safe option, as anyone with savvy enough acumen and same high tech equipment will steal your information transmission's as it's broadcast.

I feel sure (as you've alluded to Bob Rankin) that AT&T has overstated their broadband service in this area as there are moderately sized businesses along the highways in the surrounding areas that must have high-speed internet to function properly. Working for change; and the high-speed providers (fiber optics) need to be held to the standards that the statutes dictate!! Thanks Again, Joe W.

Posted by:

22 Sep 2018

One of the main problems with this issue is that people in cities and areas with high-speed simply cannot imagine that others live with internet speeds just above dial-up speeds (and I also know that most do not even remember how slow dial-up was!).
I live with the fast speed of 6 mbp, on a good day. This is provided by the ONLY provider in my area. Forget about the common pastime of "binge-watching" anything.
Yes, I could get satellite service, but that is even slower in my area--and more expensive. Some of my neighbors do not have ANY internet options.
So Bob is correct that this issue is truly separating the "haves and have NOTs" into distinct quality of life disparity.

Posted by:

22 Sep 2018

This Axios article says the divide between rural and city will be even greater with 5G:


Posted by:

Jon Fredrickson
22 Sep 2018

Good Article! If Trump and the Republicans want to make America great again they should do what Roosevelt and the Dems did by instituting The Rural Electrification Act of 1936.This program provided federal loans for the installation of electrical distribution systems to serve isolated rural areas of the United States. Yes I was alive back then and no I am not a Democrat.

Posted by:

Stephen A McFadden
23 Sep 2018

I live in Australia Sadly the situation here is very similar.

Posted by:

23 Sep 2018

Rural broad band is like rural electrification Who can argue that wiring for power in rural areas is or was a bad thing? Power is power, information is the new power to the people thing.

Posted by:

Melanie Goddard
24 Sep 2018

I take exception to your explanation of why prices go up in urban areas. It is actually more expensive to bring utilities to rural areas b/c there aren't enough people to cover the cost. In cities, it's cheaper (per person) to bring services to one small area with concentrated demand. And, people tend to make more money in the city - so more can be charged. Why take broadband to the few when you can make a ton on the many that cluster in urban areas? And, therein lies the problem.

You hit the nail on the head when you say, "broadband is a decisive resource in one's ability to create a bearable life". What you are describing is A BASIC UTILITY! Like electricity and running water. Which is why we all should be fighting for NET NEUTRALITY, not just the provision of broadband.

As another poster has said, pay attention to Mr Pai and his FCC. By changing the rules to allow provision of this service to be based on profit, only, you deprive a great many of basic internet access, which, as you have so eloquently described, means they are relegated to an inferior quality of life. Don't we want everyone to have access so they can be well educated, well employed contributors to this country? Shouldn't we all be willing to pay our fair share to insure everyone has access? Why should big corporations get all the bandwidth? How does that benefit us, in the end?

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