Population: 351 (and fiber)

Here is a story about a woman who the the Director of R&D for a high tech multimedia firm. She lives in Winthrop, Washington, and sleeps in a teepee. Now I know many of you will probably stop reading right there, but this article highlights a growing trend and the power of fiber to change rural communities. From the article, here is a description of Winthrop:

It's more than three hours by car to the nearest freeway exit, two hours to movie theaters and shopping malls. It's a place where, as late as 2001, folks in certain canyons were struggling to get phone service. Four hours from Seattle, a century-wide gap in telecommunications.

No more. These days, fiber-optic cables run like a river down the valley. Microwave towers beam data from peak to peak.

Jokingly, I ask Evans if she can get streaming video in her teepee.

Seriously, she replies, "Of course! . . . Six megabits per second."

Another interesting nugget in the article is the fact that call centers that moved overseas are already coming back. Where are they going? To rural communities WITH FIBER. Rural communities offer workers with excellent work ethics, stable wages, and low cost of doing business. But these days, call centers need the lowest possible telecommunications costs, and they also need to be able to hook a call center into their worldwide VoIP phone systems. Fiber delivers. And it should be a cautionary warning to communities that are hitching their wagon to wireless while thinking that all their broadband problems are solved. Wireless does not provide the bandwidth, security, or reliability that businesses want and need for mission critical services like VoIP.

Farther down in the story, a company in Winthrop had to pay $400,000 out of pocket to get access to fiber for their business because there was no community infrastructure. It's a wonder the firm stayed at all. What kept the firm in tiny Winthrop? Quality of life.

It's a twofer: Rural communities that have the right quality of life and fiber have a bright future. It is important to note the emphasis on the RIGHT quality of life. Every community thinks it has great quality of life, but the amenities, services, schools, and recreational opportunities have to appeal to the kind of people you want to attract to the community, not just folks that have lived in your town all their lives. And there is often a disconnect between the two groups and just what constitutes quality of life. Take a look at the Open for Business handout Design Nine has in its Resources section.

Read the whole article; it is worth the time.

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