California lawmakers are currently entertaining legislation intended to increase funding for rural internet access. They are not alone. Lawmakers in many other states are looking at similar proposals. If they all pass this year (2022), the states could end up spending hundreds of millions of dollars to bring broadband into rural America.
Spending that much money raises eyebrows, as it should. Taxpayers want to know why so much is being earmarked for rural internet expansion. Unfortunately, because the majority of us do not live in rural areas, we have no idea just how different life is outside of large metropolitan areas and sprawling suburbia.
No Internet Infrastructure
The plight of rural households without broadband internet access is rooted in a lack of infrastructure. How is broadband access provided? Through coaxial and fiber-optic cables. Those cables have to be run from a service provider’s facilities out to the homes that need service.
It is obvious that internet service providers have to pay to build the infrastructure that services their customers. So they need enough subscribers in a given area to cover the costs of installation and maintenance. Otherwise, they run the real risk of losing money on the deal. This is the main hindrance to rural internet service.
Rural areas have two things working against them:
- Distance – By their nature, rural areas are separated from urban areas by distance. Some rural areas are so far away from urban centers that broadband service providers could run cables for more than ten miles without hooking up to a single house. That is a lot of cable not generating revenue.
- Terrain – Reaching some rural areas, especially in states like California, requires covering some pretty rough terrain. It is already expensive enough to run coastal and fiber-optic cables on flat, open land. When the terrain gets rough, costs go up.
The long and short of it is that paying to install infrastructure in rural areas is not financially viable for broadband providers. But here’s the thing: it wasn’t financially viable for utilities and telephone companies way back when. At least it wasn’t then. But over time, building utility and telephone infrastructure in rural areas paid off.
Other Internet Solutions
As the states ponder spending millions on new infrastructure for rural internet access, there are other solutions. The first is satellite internet. It is internet access provided by the same satellite technology that allowed so many cable users to cut their cords back in the 1990s. Subscribers install small satellite dishes on their properties through which they can get online.
A more modern, and arguably better, wireless solution is 4G LTE internet. Blazing Hog is a Texas company that provides this service. Subscribers are given a 4G wireless modem that connects to a network via local cell phone towers. From there, they can get online.
Your typical 4G LTE rural internet package is designed to compete with traditional broadband. It offers pretty impressive speeds and competitive pricing. However, data limits are almost always part of the package. There is also the interference issue to worry about. Because 4G LTE rural internet relies on cell signals, it can suffer from interference from the terrain, the weather, etc.
Whether or not state lawmakers have considered wireless solutions is not clear. What is clear is their commitment to expanding broadband access into rural areas. Lawmakers in multiples state believe it is worth spending a ton of money to build new infrastructure. Chances are they will do just that in the coming years. We will find out in due time what the total bill ends up being.