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South Central Alabama Broadband Cooperative District

Why Rural Broadband Is Important

Rural broadband is essential to modern agriculture, the farmers and ranchers who grow our food and the quality of life for rural Americans. Farm Bureau supports using the Universal Service Fund to expand broadband deployment to rural areas. We also support using a combination of tax incentives, grants and/or regulation to increase the use of broadband access in rural areas.

Impact

Precision Agriculture

Farmers and ranchers depend on broadband just as they do highways, railways, and waterways to ship food, fuel, and fiber across the country and around the world. Many of the latest yield maximizing farming techniques require broadband connections for data collection and analysis performed both on the farm and in remote data centers. However, 18 percent of U.S. farms have no access to the Internet according to the USDA report, “Farm Computer Usage and Ownership, 2021.”

America’s farmers and ranchers embrace technology that allows their farming businesses to be more efficient, economical, and environmentally friendly. Today’s farmers and ranchers are using precision agricultural techniques to make decisions that impact the amount of fertilizer a farmer needs to purchase and apply to the field, the amount of water needed to sustain the crop, and the amount and type of herbicides or pesticides the farmer may need to apply. These are only a few examples of the ways farmers use broadband connectivity to achieve optimal yield, lower environmental impact and maximize profits.

Farmers and ranchers rely on broadband access to manage and operate successful businesses, the same as small businesses do in urban and suburban America. Access to broadband is essential for farmers and ranchers to follow commodity markets, communicate with their customers, gain access to new markets around the world and, increasingly, for regulatory compliance.

Quality of Life

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. According to the Federal Communications Commission, 17 percent of rural Americans lack access to 25 Mbps/3 Mbps service, compared to only 1 percent of urban Americans. Current and future generations of rural Americans will be left behind their fellow citizens if they are without affordable high-speed broadband service that enables them to tap into health care and educational services, government agencies, and new business opportunities.

Broadband allows people more affordable and efficient access to basic amenities such as education, health care, public safety, and government services by:

 

  • Affording people opportunities to participate in online learning and distance education
  • Giving entrepreneurs and small- and home-based business owners opportunities to compete with large corporations
  • Increasing the productivity and efficiency of businesses that use the internet for their operations
  • Connecting patients in remote areas to health care services
  • Making government services more readily available to residents
  • Saving companies and organizations money by letting employees telework
  • Allowing friends and families to stay in touch with one another

Why Speed Matters

Broadband speed is important because it allows for faster transmission (uploading and downloading) of data. As data is transmitted digitally, text, images and sound are all translated into “bits” of data.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) defines basic broadband as transmission speeds of at least 25 Mbps (megabits per second) – or 25 million bits per second – downstream (from the internet to the user’s computer) and 3 Mbps upstream (from the user’s computer to the internet).

In January 2015, the FCC increased the recommended availability target speed threshold to 25 Mbps (download)/3Mbps (upload) from 4 Mbps (download)/1 Mbps (upload). Slower services, such as dial-up, run at 56 Kbps and cannot transmit data as quickly.

Broadband is accessed through various high-speed transmission technologies that allow these bits to move faster.

Benefits of Rural Broadband

As the technology supporting broadband connectivity continues to grow, so do the benefits of getting connected. Here are some examples of how broadband connectivity can benefit your home or business.

Economic Development

Broadband enables local communities, regions, and nations to develop, attract, retain, and expand job-creating businesses and institutions. It also improves the productivity and profitability of large, small, and home-based businesses and allows them to compete in local, national, and global markets.

Government Services

Broadband helps government agencies improve quality, lower costs, and increase transparency by improving internal operations and making it easier for residents to interact with them online.

Education

Broadband networks enhance educational experiences by providing students and teachers with access to an array of resources, including text-based materials, photos, videos, music, animations, interactive lessons, and oral history collections. Broadband also opens classroom walls, allowing students to participate in distance learning opportunities at any time from any location they can access the internet, such as libraries, school, and home.

Health Care

Broadband makes remote access to clinical services possible for patients and provides significantly improved, cost-effective access to quality health care. It also allows physicians to monitor their patients through innovative home health devices, avoiding expensive house calls and giving patients real-time feedback.

Public Safety

Broadband, particularly wireless broadband, is becoming increasingly indispensable to the interoperability of police, fire, health, and other government entities that protect the public in both day-to-day and crisis situations. This involves rapid disaster response systems, effective early warning and public alert systems, disaster preparation programs, remote security monitoring and backup systems for public safety communications networks.

 

Environmental Sustainability

Broadband enables buildings to communicate with utilities and utilities to communicate with each other and the energy market, providing real-time information to both buildings and homes. These include smart buildings and smart grids, which hold great promise for dramatic reductions and greater efficiencies in energy consumption.

Telework

Broadband allows teleworkers opportunities to more readily live and work in locations of their own choosing, without having to be within commuting distance of a corporate center or another base location. Studies show that commuters drive 53% to 77% on days they telecommute than on days when they drive into work. Also, a three-day-a-week telecommuter can save an average of $5,878 per year in commuting costs and avoid putting 9,060 pounds of pollutants into the environment.

People with Disabilities

Broadband is a valuable tool to address the needs of people with disabilities. Through various broadband-based applications and supporting technologies, those who are deaf or hearing impaired can use webcams to communicate with one another through sign language. People who are blind or visually impaired can use screen reader programs that audibly describe website material to users. Software programs now exist to interpret screen content into Braille. Broadband also permits users of telecommunications relay services to use video relay services to communicate more readily with voice telephone users.

Entertainment

Broadband is essential to enjoy 21st-century entertainment. Streaming video, online gaming and connecting with friends and relatives via social media are only possible because of broadband. N

Rural Older Adults

Older adults also use technology to remain in their homes longer; however, two in five don’t think technology is designed with them in mind. Citing everything from poor user experience to insufficient training materials to complexity of offerings, older adults want to embrace technology, but feel left out of our collective progress.

‘OUR ORGANIZATIONS AND OUR MANY ALLIES ARE PURSUING MULTIPLE PATHS TO ADVANCE AGE-INCLUSIVE INNOVATION POLICY.’

What Is the Digital Divide?

Nearly every aspect of today’s society interacts with the internet in some capacity. From everyday appliances – like lights and refrigerators – to complex health care systems and records, most Alabamians encounter the internet daily.

As opportunities created by the internet increase, so do inequities for those who do not have access to the technologies, tools and skills needed to participate in the increasingly digital world.

The digital divide is the gap between those who have access to technology, the internet and digital literacy training and those who do not. It affects all generations – both rural and urban communities – and a wide variety of industries and sectors.

Affordable Service

In some areas, the availability of and the understanding of the value high-speed broadband brings is not the challenge. Instead, for some, the challenge is finding affordable service. 

According to a 2019 State of Broadband In America report by Broadband Now, 42.4% of Alabama have access to 25 megabytes per second (Mbps) download speed and 3 Mbps upload speed at $60 or less per month. The inability to afford internet service is one of the most common and pervasive barriers to broadband adoption. 

However, a 2019 Oklahoma State University study found that only 20% of respondents said they were likely to purchase internet if it were $50 or more per month, while 74% indicated they would purchase it if it were $10 per month. 

While affordability remains the most common barrier, many areas have discount offer programs to offer discounted or low-cost internet plans for qualifying low-income households*. They just are not well advertised or not advertised at all. As such, these programs are not widely used, leading internet service providers to be less likely to expand these programs.  

Low-Cost Offer

The Affordable Connectivity Program gives qualified low-income households a discount of $30 a month on internet services or up to $75 a month for broadband service on tribal lands. Qualified households may also receive $100 to buy a laptop, desktop, or tablet through their internet provider (with a co-payment of more than $10 but less than $50).

Digital Literacy

Imagine you are sitting in front of a desktop computer, having never seen one before, with the goal of emailing your doctor to schedule an appointment using your new patient portal. You would not know the intricacies of signing up for an email address so your physician could establish an account for you, much less be able to access it.

However, if you had access to the technology and understood how to use it, you are increasing your digital literacy.

Digital literacy is the ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information, requiring both cognitive and technical skills. 

As people begin to develop these skills, technology can add more value to their life, which begins to increase their perceived value of the importance of a computer, other digital devices, or the internet. 

There are five key characteristics of a digitally literate person. The digitally literate person:  

  • Possesses the variety of skills – technical and cognitive – required to find, understand, evaluate, create, and communicate digital information in a wide variety of formats
  • Can use diverse technologies appropriately and effectively to retrieve information, interpret results, and judge the quality of that information
  • Understands the relationship between technology, life-long learning, personal privacy, and stewardship of information
  • Uses these skills and the appropriate technology to communicate and collaborate with peers, colleagues, family, and on occasion, the general public
  • Uses these skills to actively participate in civic society and contribute to a vibrant, informed, and engaged community

Recent research shows that digital and computer skills training increases new internet subscribers’ desire to use the internet for ongoing learning, increasing their job skills and searching for jobs. 

Homework Gap

The homework gap is the gulf that exists between students and families that have access to computers and the internet and those who don’t. It is part of the digital divide and can affect a student’s ability to:

  • Complete homework
  • Be academically successful
  • Build the foundation for a successful career
  • Take advantage of economic opportunities

Nationally, according to Pew Research Center, the gap looks like this:

  • 15% of households with school-aged children do not have high-speed internet access at home.
  • 17% of teens say they have trouble completing their homework because of lack of internet access.
  • The numbers are even higher when it comes to minorities and low-income families.
  • One in every four low-income teens do not have access to a laptop or desktop computer at home.

The Homework Gap in Alabama Black Belt

Researchers estimate that as many as half a million Alabama students do not have the access they need to high-speed internet.
Closing the homework gap in Alabama is one of our major goals.

Telehealth

Health care services are becoming increasingly digitized, and many services are already delivered online. As that trend increases, health care could become more efficient, less expensive and more effective.

If digital equity is not achieved, those positive outcomes will not occur, thus negatively impacting the economic and physical health of communities who lack access to digital technologies. 

Who Is Affected by the Digital Divide?

The digital divide is the gap between those who have access to technology, the internet and digital literacy training and those who do not. It affects all generations – both rural and urban communities – as well as a wide variety of industries and sectors. Here’s a look at some of the groups of people affected by the digital divide.

School Children

School-age children are affected by the digital divide through the Homework Gap – the gap that occurs when they are assigned homework requiring internet access but don’t have home access.

Workforce & Employers

The rapid pace at which technology and required technology skills are advancing in the workplace is leaving behind workers without digital skills, access to the internet and computing devices. It’s also having an impact on businesses efficiency and competitiveness.

Health Care Patients

With the rise of telehealth services as viable options for contacting health care providers, people without access to broadband and computing devices will lack access to these additional tools.

Residents

Governments are increasingly offering services online, and those without access to broadband and computing devices cannot access those services or participate in community activities that require access.

Closing the Digital Divide

The digital divide is a significant challenge, but solutions exist. The digital divide can be closed by implementing digital inclusion policies, programs and tools that incorporate the following:

  • Affordable, robust broadband internet service
  • Internet-enabled devices that meet the needs of the user
  • Access to digital literacy training
  • Quality technical support
  • Applications and online content designed to enable and encourage self-sufficiency, participation, and collaboration

Digital Equity

The Division of Broadband and Digital Equity is working to achieve digital equity throughout Rural Alabama to fully close the digital divide.

Digital equity is a condition in which all individuals and communities have the information technology capacity needed for full participation in society, democracy, and economy. Digital equity is necessary for civic and cultural participation, employment, lifelong learning, and access to essential services. To achieve digital equity means that every North Carolinian would have the technologies, tools and skills needed to access affordable high-speed internet anywhere, anytime.

Digital Inclusion

To achieve digital equity requires the design, implementation, and support of digital inclusion programs.

Digital inclusion is a term that refers to the activities necessary to ensure that all individuals and communities, including the most disadvantaged, have access to and use of information and communication technologies. Because of the evolutionary nature of technology, digital inclusion strategies must evolve as technologies develop and change.

While making sure that everyone has access to technology, the internet, and digital literacy training is a critical component, the use of these tools is essential in closing the digital divide. This component is commonly called “adoption.”

Broadband Adoption

Broadband adoption is when a household subscribes to an internet service in their home. There are many reasons for not subscribing at home, but there are four key barriers to adoption:

  • The cost associated with the subscription to broadband service
  • The cost of a device to use the broadband service
  • A person’s lack of existing digital literacy skills, like how to use the internet or device
  • The perceived lack of relevance or benefit to the person’s life

While the issues surrounding availability to reliable, high-speed internet is often the topic of discussions around broadband, adoption remains a substantial issue.