Rural Telecon: Breakfast Keynote (Tuesday)

Hilda Gay Legg gave the morning keynote address at the RTC conference today. Until very recently, Legg was the Federal Co-Chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission. She has had extensive experience working with rural communities and as a sociologist, really understands rural America. She had a lot of interesting comments:

  • Greenfield projects in urban and suburban areas are getting fully wired with fiber to the home. Why are builders and developers in rural communities doing the same, and why aren't local leaders stepping up to make sure that happens?
  • Loma Linda, California, requires builders to install structured wiring and fiber to the premises on all new construction. Why aren't rural communities doing the same?
  • An MIT study (data covers 1998 to 2001) showed that communities with affordable broadband were growing 20% faster than communities that can't offer affordable broadband.
  • Do rural leaders really understand how important broadband is the future of rural communities? Why aren't they doing everything possible to ensure that rural communities get good broadband service? If they are not doing their job, why not?
  • In Japan, 46 megabit broadband service is available for $26 a month. In the U.S., we pay $45 for 1 megabit service. Why is that and why do we put up with it?
  • The world is not waiting for U. S. communities and leaders to catch up. They are moving--fast--and creating an increasing gap that is leaving rural communities in America at a disadvantage.
  • Communities should be pursuing open ditch and common trench policies to speed the deployment of fiber throughout the community. Water and sewer projects should include placing fiber alongside.
  • There is nothing more important to the economic future of the United States than affordable broadband.
  • Rural communities are not competing against each other, or even against more urban communities in the U.S. Get over it. They are competing in a global economy. Get used to it.

Legg has a good grasp of the issues, and she is one of a very few speakers on telecom who has identified correctly that cultural barriers in rural communities are a much bigger obstacle than lack of infrastructure. That has been my experience as well--rural communities that want to succeed do, but it requires a change of cultural and appropriate local leadership. Legg gave a great talk.

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