Rural Great Bend resident Joey Bahr was featured this week on National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered.” He was interviewed by High Plains Public Radio about rural internet issues.
The story by Davis Condos notes that nearly 11% of U.S. households don’t have access to high-speed Internet but SpaceX founder Elon Musk plans to solve that by launching over 40,000 satellites and offering Starlink satellite internet for $99 a month. Musk is doing this to raise money for his highly touted project of sending humans to Mars.
The need for rural broadband service is not new, and it is far more serious than people not being able to stream movies. Farm Bureau’s position is that broadband access is essential for farmers and ranchers to follow commodity markets, communicate with customers and access new markets around the world.
It’s also essential to rural residents, whether they farm or not. According to Farm Bureau, rural communities need access to health care, government services and educational and business opportunities. For many rural communities, access can only be gained by using broadband services and sophisticated technologies that require high-speed connections.
It is interesting that Elon Musk might solve the problem through a capitalistic venture, although his proposal does raise some concerns about space junk and constellations created by man-made satellites. However, availability is only one issue when it comes to broadband. Another issue is affordability. The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society reports there is a digital divide.
When it comes to haves and have nots, we’re also realizing that school-age children need access to these services. Brookings notes that COVID-19 has revealed that more than 12 million of 55 million students who were sent home at the end of March did not have home broadband access.
When Congress gets around to looking at ways to improve our nation’s infrastructure, it should not ignore the fact that the internet, like telephone service before it, was once a luxury but is now a necessity for a generation that needs it to communicate, learn and work. That’s true for areas rural, urban and in-between.