Why cellular wireless is not the answer for rural broadband

There is a significant push nationwide to simply let the cellphone companies "solve" the rural broadband problem by rolling out "little broadband" cellular data services in rural areas and proclaiming, "Job done!" This story from the Daily Yonder illustrates, unfortunately, it's not going to be that simple.

Customer service problems aside, the structural issue is that cellular wireless simply does not have now, nor will it ever have, enough bandwidth to support everything people want to do. Verizon is now having the same iPhone data/bandwidth problems that AT&T had when the latter company first rolled out the very capable iPhone four years ago. And AT&T has now moved to bandwidth-limited contracts because the company simply can't keep up with demand. Wireless broadband is very important in rural areas as a bridge technology to get homes and businesses off dial-up and onto something better. But like other "little broadband" technologies like DSL and cable modem services, WiFi/WiMax/cellular wireless networks can't do it all. Wireless networks are needed for mobile access, and fiber is needed for jobs and economic development.

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We have used cellular broadband and satellite solutions previously, before DSL was finally expanded to where we live. The cellular service was pretty good. At the time, we did not have a data limit, though bandwidth was limited and slow during peak times, and it would ocasionaly hiccup and lose connection to the tower. But it beat the heck out of dial-up. Then that service was cancelled, so we migrated to satellite. There were daily data caps there, slow bandwidth, and nowhere near enough ability to do what we wanted. No VoIP, no VPN, no streaming anything, no major file transfers or downloads...except 2am-6am. It would also disconnect during really bad weather. We got used to it, but saw our internet activity severely curbed to stay within the restrictions.

Then we got DSL. No data caps, extremely rare connection glitches, and we can stream video and audio again. For very isolated rural locations with sparse populations, cellular or satellite options do make sense. But for rural areas with some level of density or not too far from urbanized areas, they need better broadband. A lot of people live and try to work from their homes in such areas, and it is a factor in deciding where to live for many.

Cellular network is shared bandwidth, it can NEVER compete with DSL, or other dedicated broadband networks....