Blog Post

"Wireless and way ahead," or far behind and falling farther: two stories of rural internet access

The great Daily Yonder blog featured a piece recently on one of the winners in rural internet access: Greene County, North Carolina. They've been declared "wireless and way ahead" after installation of countywide wireless internet access, coupled with (and this is a major deal too) laptop computers provided to all students in grades 6-12 in their public schools, plus hardware and software to go with them. In addition to schools, churches and local businesses have worked to make wifi a fundamental part of the everyday experience, with positive results in education, business development, and beyond. (Greene County has also been supported by the e-NC Authority.) As the DY says:

"The cost of high-speed internet access has deterred many rural communities from making Greene County's move. But it appears now that slow-trot efforts to bring affordable WiFi to rural America may be breaking into gallop.

Last week Intel announced development of its rural connectivity platform.According to the company's Jeff Galinovsky, the technology extends wireless internet access across 60 miles, using a processor, radios, specialized software and an antenna. 'The system isn?t complex and will have a target price of $500. Two systems will be required for each set up so the total cost to wire a location will be $1,000.'"


Kayenta, Arizona on the Navajo Nation


Compare this with to the case of the Navajo Nation, which covers a sprawling 27,000 square miles in New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah, which is currently dependent on satellite internet connections for internet access at chapter houses throughout their communities.  According to the Santa Fe New Mexican in this article, their internet provider is having trouble collecting millions in promised reimbursement funds from the FCC for providing internet access and is threatening to shut down the service. The importance of having a central place with internet access can't be emphasized enough for rural communities, and it's tough to think of the implications that this loss could have for educational attainment, job searches, and more, exactly the areas where Greene County, NC is seeing the benefits from their wireless access.

The nuance between these stories is notable to me, especially considering where I'm blogging. I'm currently in my office at Duke, where I can already take advantage of the university's top-notch wireless network indoors and out, and it's about to get better. Duke recently announced a partnership with Cisco Systems to upgrade our wifi to 802.11n protocol with 2,500 access points; that "n" is not a typo, but a standard that the IEEE hasn't even certified yet. When completed this fall, even greater amplification than our current setup will be available to campus users. Certainly the digital divide is evident between large research universities in urban areas and the places mentioned here, but depending on the access that rural communities can get, we may end up with further divides, with some folks several canyons away from opportunity.

Image of gate in Kayenta courtesy of Flickr user CFBSr



I don't undestand how we can have a solution that is cheap and works for rural areas, but many of the urban wifi projects have been stalled or derailed.

There are many more people in the inner city that don't have internet acces than in the rural areas.

In the end 'internet access' should be treated like the library system and is a public service for everyone for free via our taxes.


This entry was not meant to imply that there is no problem elsewhere, particularly urban areas. I simply had the scope of rural Americans in mind. I may devote a future blog post to what you pointed to here.