David McClure says internet availability and education needed in rural communities
Fast and affordable internet service is a luxury in the U.S. that many take for granted. It’s used on a daily basis in cattle production to check markets, scan news, connect with friends and family from a distance and make informed decisions on topics like nutrition, heifer development, new bull sires and more.
But, what about those in secluded rural areas who don’t have access to broadband internet? Are they able to obtain information as efficiently as their producer counterparts who can? Are their children exposed to the same levels of education in schools if using a slower dial-up service? Are ambulances able to track an emergency as quickly if lacking connections to GPS technologies?
These are some of the questions posed by David McClure, president and CEO of the U.S. Internet Industry Association (USIIA), the primary U.S. trade association for internet commerce and connectivity. McClure explained how proposed government regulations on broadband internet providers throughout the country would significantly impact the expansion of high-speed Internet in rural communities.
“It’s critical to increase rural access to broadband internet,” said McClure. “E-mail access, real-time marketing information and online livestock sales are all important components of the need for high-speed internet access in the agriculture industry. Over the past four years, we have been able to deploy internet access to an increasing number of rural areas, and yet, it’s not in enough places. I have done reports on rural broadband, which indicated that service is really poor right now, but it looks quite positive that someday it might improve, with the help of locals working within their own communities.”
McClure said from the study he realized several important things. His first discovery was that there is incredibly poor data about the broadband industry.
“There are many decisions being made in Washington D.C. today based on guess-work, bad numbers and poor assumptions,” noted McClure. “Because of this, I began my own investigation, going to the source of rural broadband providers themselves to get a clearer picture.”
From his conversations, McClure concluded that many people across the U.S. like to blame the lack of internet in rural areas to infrastructure; however, just because it’s a rural area, doesn’t mean internet can’t be available.
“No matter where you are in the country, most places have the capability to get internet,” said McClure. “It may not be as fast or as affordable as we would like it to be, but it’s at least accessible. More than 37 percent of Americans have the ability to go online with broadband but don’t, not because of a failure of infrastructure but a failure of education.”
His second conclusion derives from the discovery that education might be the leading factor in the low percentage of users.
“What is so blindingly obvious, when we look at people and why they aren’t going online, it isn’t because of cost or availability, it’s because they don’t know why they should even use the internet in the first place,” said McClure. “If we would address all the issues of cost and deployment, we would still have 30 percent of Americans not online. Why? Because maybe they don’t think it’s relevant to their lives, maybe they don’t have a computer, or maybe it’s too complicated. We haven’t done a good job of educating folks in how the internet can enhance their lives. This impacts many aging farmers and ranchers, those without high school educations and seniors who haven’t been exposed to these technologies.”
McClure said there will be an emphasis in Washington to increase wireless projects and bringing people online in what is called, “sustainable adoptions for broadband.”
“There are many misconceptions about internet in isolated communities,” explained McClure. “Some farmers in very rural areas were early adopters and use the internet to help manage their businesses. It’s also becoming increasingly central to their social lives.”
“The bottom line is this: when it comes down to it, we don’t need more rules, we need increased education to show people how much the internet can improve their lives,” he added. “Broadband is the future of rural America, and the battle is worth it.”
McClure concluded that it’s up to local community members to work with their area leaders to improve internet access in schools, hospitals and on farms and ranches. He said the first step is communicating those ideas and bringing awareness of this issue to local officials. The internet might be something many take for granted, but without it, what would the world look like?
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