Broadband & Wireless Technologies and the Role of Local Government

I had the opportunity to be a speaker at the GCCMA that was being hosted in Tifton, Georgia this year. The topic, as indicated above, was a natural for me as Tifton has been running a broadband cable company since 1999. Below is the text of my speech:

Broadband & Wireless Technologies and the Role of Local Government
November 1, 2006
UGA Tifton Campus Conference Center / RDC
Tifton, Georgia
Presented by Donovan Adkisson, CityNet General Manager and MIS Director for the City of Tifton for the GEORGIA CITY & COUNTY MANAGEMENT ASSOCIATION FALL CONFERENCE

The website defines “broadband” as “A class of communication channel capable of supporting a wide range of frequencies, typically from audio up to video frequencies. A broadband channel can carry multiple signals by dividing the total capacity into multiple, independent bandwidth channels, where each channel operates only on a specific range of frequencies. The term has come to be used for any kind of Internet connection with a download speed of more than 56 kbps, usually some kind of Digital Subscriber Line, Cable connection, etc.” The FCC defines broadband Internet as any connection speed over 200 kilobits per second.

How is broadband defined by its role in rural America? According to a study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, at the end of 2005 there were 24 percent of adult rural Americans online as compared to 39 percent of broadband users in urban and suburban areas. This was an increase from 9 percent in 2003 when urban Americans were holding at 22 percent. The increase of broadband adoption in rural areas has exceeded the rates in urban neighborhoods. Rural broadband users are using the same technologies as their urban counterparts – digital subscriber lines, cable modems and now wireless technologies. The use of fixed based wireless systems has grown from 1 percent in 2002 to 5 percent in 2005.

Broadband is a strong economic development driver for rural areas. Businesses looking to relocate in other areas are quick to ask “Do you have broadband? Can you get me a quick connection to the Internet?” If your area doesn’t haven’t it, then those businesses will look elsewhere. Broadband has become much like any other required utility such as water, gas, sewer and electricity. It is a resource that is now expected in our communities. However, there are rural areas that are still being left behind and they must do something about it now just as Tifton did 7 years ago. Unless the rural community takes matters into own hands, it could become a victim of trickle-down technology while waiting on the private sector to provide these services. Having your community connected to the Internet is as important as having it connected to a major highway.

As I’ve mentioned before, there are various methods of providing these services to a community all with varying degrees of costs. CityNet started as a cable company providing video services as well as broadband connectivity. Thinking that cable would pay the bills, broadband connectivity was seen as a necessary move, but not a highly profitable one. As it turns out, broadband connectivity is the driving force for CityNet. So much so that we decided to expand our service area, but do it smartly and economically by deploying wireless to reach those areas of Tift county that were not wired for broadband access.

In those areas are located the backbone of the agriculture industry – the farmers. Unfortunately, your typical farm isn’t located near any type of broadband connectivity. However, broadband is becoming a tool for farmers for precision farming, monitoring of fields and systems in those fields. Wireless networks can be deployed on farms to provide a closed private network linking the assets together but the missing element was connectivity to the Internet. Providing that connectivity is the key – whether through wired or wireless technologies. Wireless is typically the least expensive option and a good first step.

The broadband infrastructure whether wired or wireless will form a foundation for new and innovative uses and services. Simple everyday tasks such as email and shopping online will yield to other vast opportunities. Local government needs to decide what its primary role will be in ensuring the stability of this foundation. Should local government build and maintain the broadband infrastructure or should it enter into public-private partnerships? The City of Tifton chose the former as public-private partnerships for these services were not a win-win for all parties involved, especially the public. However, in other areas they may work as it all comes down to cost, reward and feasibility.

Broadband has become as necessary as the electricity in your home or the gas in your vehicle. Adoption of high speed Internet access in rural areas continues to climb as the services are being made available. Businesses rely on broadband to compete in the global economy. Where those businesses are physically located is dictated more and more on broadband availability. Farmers are using networks connected to the Internet to manage and run their farms and wireless technologies are being utilized to cost effectively provide those connections. To ensure rural areas aren’t left behind, local government must be involved at some level, whether as a provider of broadband services or as the champion of a public-private partnership.

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