Posting in Energy
Distressed or remote communities have always lost much of their young and skilled workers in droves as they left for greener pastures. Will greater online access reverse this outflow of human capital?
Last week, I ruminated about the possible far-reaching but under-studied effects of information technology, on both the greening of business and society, as well as the potential of spreading opportunities and revitalization to communities long out of reach of the economic mainstream.
Reports are that the federal government will soon start handing out $4 billion in stimulus funds targeted at establishing high-speed Internet connections to more rural communities, poor neighborhoods and other parts of the county lacking online access. E-business may be just what is needed by remote rust-belt communities or Native American reservations that have been cut off for years, by geographic distance, from the mainstream of business.
Residents have had to leave their communities to seek employment or attend school in other parts of the country. Now, it’s possible to build businesses, and attend the nations’ best universities, without leaving these communities.
But to get to this place, these communities need better service -- and in many cases, it's out of reach. Commercial Internet service providers often don't see business value in wiring these areas. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that community groups seeking the expand Internet access include the following:
- The Coeur d'Alene Indian tribe of Idaho is asking for $12.2 million for a ring of fiber-optic lines that could connect up to 3,500 homes on one side of its rural reservation that has been underserved by cable and DSL providers.
- Clearwire Corp., a WiMax provider, seeks $19.4 million to build a high-speed wireless network in impoverished Detroit neighborhoods.
- Mountain Area Information Network (MAIN), a nonprofit Internet provider based in Appalachia, is asking for $2.5 million to extend its wireless network in Asheville, N.C., and several remote mountain communities. A sister nonprofit is asking for $38.8 million to install fiber lines that would connect that network to the Internet.
E-business means a new realm of economic opportunity on a scale we have not experienced before. Distressed or remote communities have always lost much of their young and skilled workers in droves as they left for greener pastures. Will greater online access reverse this outflow of human capital?
Oct 12, 2009
If we believe education is the engine to drive our continued growth - then we need this since we can then bring the high college classrooms into every home - with free courses and then free college instruction with free degrees. How could you do that with dial up? If the greenies are right about wind power, power the stuff with windmills, or solar cells or waterfalls (which those areas have lots of.) Like police protection, armies, etc - government should be involved in this to the extent of getting it started.
After all, if everyone can live and work in our rural communities, then they will start doing so? They won't be quiet rural communities anymore as more and more people continue to flee the dysfunction that is most of our larger urban areas. In fact, don't the eco-progressives argue that one of the biggest contributors to excessive carbon emissions are people living in suburban and rural communities that are completely dependent upon the automobile? Just providing an alternative viewpoint with arguments that you can easily find expressed elsewhere on "smartplanet"
I have to agree with DavidMichaelMyers, and, in part, with MissLiz. Tearing down the corrupt regulations which prop up local telecomm monopoly would go a lot further than the extortion+subsidy combination in both extending net access and increasing band-width. Whether that access is via satellite or coax or fiber or microwaves or something completely different are better left to the millions of bright, inventive US citizens in light of the profits to be earned.
I must object that the notion that helping rural communties get broadband is some sort of welfare program that will never work. I spent two and a half years working with others in my rural community to try to interest someone - anyone! - in providing broadband to our two towns - about 2500 people all told. No large companies would bid, or even take our calls. We were too far from a switching station for DSL, too far from the last cable installation to get cable (unless we paid $15K per mile to conect...Yet in just my own close neighborhood, 16 households had one or two adults working on line from home - on dialup! (My neighbor the hydrogeologist was splitting GPS maps up into dozens of word docs to send them out - you could wait hours for a simple program update to download...) We persevered, put together a townwide coalition, sent out surveys to all town residents to gauge potential customer interest, and finally got some entrepreunerial types to build a wireless broadband network with repeaters on silos, etc. It is fabulous, and inexpensive, and more and more people can work from home without having to leave our region or our state (which is losing its youth in droves). Investing in broadband and allowing communities to compete for the installations would save some other community the incredible effort that it took for twenty of us to work on this project for two years - just to access something that was passing by our houses in the cable company's lines! It would also of course provide jobs doing the installing, it would make diverse economic opportunities available without forcing people to move and abandon their homes and families, or drive hundreds of miles every day. Finaly, it woudl reduce pollution and greenhouse gas emisisons by enabling telework. It's a no-brainer - it doesn't pay enough for large compaies to do it, but we all have an interest in supporting our fellow citizens who need work, have skils, but just don't live in an urban center.
All we can do is provide the tools and then let human enginuity do the rest. There is no guarantee but at least it provides hope.
Connectivity is always a good thing. The debate on the infrastructure costs of terrestrial as compared to satellite internet is irrelevant in the long run - what matters is the collective competitive edge and new knowledge the connectivity gives to the community. Humans are creative. Once connected, each community will find relevance for the bandwidth availed. The stimulus funds are just that - "STIMULUS FUNDS" - to stir up the mindset of the locals into trying out something new, of value in their own context. When it comes to connectivity of rural areas, it could help if we try to look at things from an R&D perspective, especially now that the tech world is gearing up for a transition into pervasive collaboration.
really the best way to provide services like this is with satelite technology, it has been pointed out that the cost of wirless repeaters etc is monsterous (and so is the cost of suppling electric to them) the cost of laying cables (utp/fibre) is also way too high, so for remote areas the best solution in terms of cost to establish is satelite based. now then at the moment that is also cost prohibitive however that cost is down to the one or two carriers who offer the service commercially, i'm pretty certain if there is a geostationary bird (think tv etc here) then it will already have the parts to carry data tx/rx so really its the up/down link that has to be provided and a monthly fee thats not stupid (say unlimited usage bb service @$60/mth) and free gear, lets face it the carrier will make the money back over 10 years or so and so long as they keep it a captive market theres no loosers. i agree that in situations like the reservation asking for the ring for the other half is perfetly justified and given the number or homes ther area covered etc then its more cost effective to install fibre link, again the cost of installing is what makes initial service expensive but if long term single provider agreements are made (say 25 year minimum) then a 3 in one package (phone tv bb) can be offered to each home for a small fee (say $100/mth) allowing unlimited connection and giving everyone a single speed option is also fair. the problem with any of thease solutions is that the initial cost must be affordable or payed for and only governments can afford the rediculously high tarrifs for such things. i read in a recent article one telecoms provider charges $2500 per mile of fibre when laying new lines (considering the equipment can lay 10 miles a day and the fibre costs less than $50 per mile) ok i understand the machines used to lay the line cost around $20,000 a week to hire another $2000 a week to run (wages fuel etc) and theres also some additional costs o be borne when ripping up a road but it still comes in around $500 a mile cost (at most) providing they work at maximum speed (and when dont they lol) so they can lay 50 miles a week (5 day week) at a cost of $500 a mile and charge the customer 5 times as much, were not even talking about terminating the line or adding junctions just dig a whole lay a fibre line (in a pipe) then fill it in again (i watched them doing the upgrade a few years ago when we got switched from copper wire to fibre line) there were 2 guys one in a truck full of spares and one in the mad looking digger/layer/filler machine which quite literally did everything pretty much automatically (they had to refill it every few hours but other wise it was just sit there and drive in a straight line) the charges are overinflated because the company is practically broke untill it pays off the upgrade costs but if you pay then they do the job and adjust there buisness model accordingly (time till break even) and as such they know thye dont "need" to do any more "free" work for another 20 years which is when they will need to start doing some more or face the problem of paying taxes due to actually making a profit, and best of all when they do finally face paying some income related tax they announce they cant do that, that infact they need to up there already high prices in order to afford the cost of providing new equipment over the next decade, at which point thye declare an overspend (due to inflating the cost of the job) and apparently this is capitalist economics please i say give the poor man a chance for a change and maybe there truly will be a shift in thease things, youngsters will still leave home to get a job before moving back home later in life (if they feel like it) service industries will still grow in remote areas (lets face it you still need to get stuff delivered) and the only real difference is instead of dwindling in size thease remote communities will now be able to remain at a relativly stable size and perhaps sustain some growth, the probelm here is the concept of community only works for small numbers of people and if you try to expand the comunity past a certain size it actually causes the social problems found in towns and cities (no social cohesion etc) so really i hope all giving bb to remote areas does is just allows them to get the same cost effective service everyone else benefits from instead of elitism striving to keep the divide of rich and poor based on access to technology. /end rant
We have similar problems in Australia, where our indigenous population is scattered in small communities in desert areas. Such job opportunities as there are, are in the sheep and cattle ranching fields, which do not have a great demand for people. The health, education and accommodation situation is so bad that the government has had to tie welfare payments to behavioural things such as school attendance. In this latter case, even this modest push has doubled the literacy and numeracy of young children, albeit from a very low base. On-line interaction with the world, whether for educational, social or other purposes would probably be of huge benefit. The Australian government is soon to launch a $43 billion broadband (wire, cable and satellite based) which may meet these peoples needs and aspirations - but when ???
Of course, "stimulus-money" can give the short-term illusion of progress or prosperity. Think of the long-term. Think not only of what night happen at this instant, but what might happen tomorrow, and what might happen in a month, six months, a year, five years, ten years, and thirty. Economic reality, however, suggests that redistribution of wealth [taking money from others, the taxpayers, to dole out to some few] always results in an eventual gross distortion of the economy and all other human relationships. Spreading "broadband" in this collectivist, redistributionist manner is actually anti-prosperity and anti-progress. These remote areas will get "broadband" when it becomes economically feasible or when the great need stimulates some entrepreneur or inventor to create a new method that IS ECONOMICALLY VIABLE ! Let's UNLEASH CAPITALISM ! !