No doubt COVID has continued to impact daily life more than two years after it reached U.S. shores. Its impacts will be felt for years to come. For example, COVID looks like it could shape the future of rural internet access. We will see what happens when the next farm bill comes up for debate.
Every few years the U.S. Congress takes up a farm bill designed to promote agriculture with funding and new regulations. The last farm bill was signed into law in 2018 by then-president Donald Trump. Parts of that bill are set to expire at the end of this year (2022). As such, a new farm bill is already in the works. Thanks to COVID, that bill could mean quite a bit to people in rural areas without internet access.
School from Parking Lots
Proponents of using government funds to expand rural internet access want to use the next iteration of the farm bill to do so. This time around, they are citing the difficulties experienced by communities without reliable internet during the peak of the COVID crisis.
U.S. Rep. Kat Cammack, a Republican from Florida, says that some of the kids in her rural district were forced to do school work in a public parking lot because they did not have reliable internet access at home. Similar stories have been echoed by other representatives of rural districts. Apparently, the height of the COVID crisis had kids doing their schoolwork at Walmarts, McDonald’s restaurants, and other public locations.
The parents of these children are unable to provide broadband at home because service providers have not run the necessary infrastructure to reach them. Why won’t they run the infrastructure? It boils down to two things.
First is cost. If there are not enough subscribers in a given geographic area, broadband providers will not invest the money in building new infrastructure. Providing service where there are too few subscribers becomes a money-losing proposition.
The second issue is the way the government classifies internet coverage. Washington and the states have divided up the country into various regions that differ in population density. If just one resident in a given region has broadband service, the government considers the entire region served. This means that broadband providers who are required to service specific areas in order to be licensed don’t necessarily have to serve every home in that region.
Wireless Internet Access
Lawmakers in Washington want to address the issue by funding new infrastructure. They want to pay to run the cables and wires necessary to give rural homes standard broadband access. However, wireless solutions do exist. According to Blazing Hog, a Texas rural internet provider, the two most popular wireless solutions are satellite and 4G LTE internet. Blazing Hog specializes in the latter.
Satellite internet provides internet access the same way satellite TV provides access to hundreds of channels. Internet communications take place via satellites in orbit and satellite dishes mounted on rooftops. As for 4G internet, it utilizes the same technology that powers 4G cell phones.
Both solutions are adequate, but less than optimal. Unfortunately, both solutions are susceptible to weather, natural obstructions, and other means of interference. That’s why Congress is willing to fund new infrastructure to expand rural internet access.
If the next farm bill brings broadband access to more rural households, those households may have COVID to thank. If not for the 2-year crisis, the fact that so many Americans still don’t have broadband access wouldn’t be in the headlines. And if it is not in the headlines, lawmakers tend to ignore it.
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