Rural areas need high speed internet access, too

Published 8:35 pm Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The Internet of Things, which is a catchy way to describe everyday devices connecting to the internet, gets a lot of attention these days. Your dishwasher, thermostat, washing machine and toilets can now connect to the internet.

Just this week, Sen. Roger Wicker conducted a hearing to examine the benefits of the Internet of Things (IoT) in rural communities.

“The Internet of Things encompasses a diverse market of internet-connected devices, machines and physical objects,” he said. “Over the past few years, we have seen an increasing number of physical objects like refrigerators and washing machines take on ‘smarter’ capabilities through internet-connected sensors.  Internet connectivity enables these things to collect data and share actionable insights to consumers and businesses alike.  This information allows the user to be more productive, efficient, and cost-effective. It is changing our economy.”

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Wicker is correct that IoT can allow people to be productive and efficient, and it is changing our economy. But it’s not changing much for Lincoln Countians who do not have access to high-speed internet. While some parts of the country and state are blazing a technology trail that makes IoT an integrated part of their lives, everyone here in Lincoln County is not.

If residents cannot connect a computer, tablet or TV to reliable and affordable high-speed internet, they certainly cannot connect a refrigerator, washing machine, thermostat or toilet. Parts of Lincoln County are stuck in the early 2000s when it comes to internet access. Yes, we realize satellite internet is available in rural Lincoln County, but it’s expensive and the data limits make it less than ideal for most users.  Wireless broadband from a provider like Verizon or CSpire depends upon strong cell service, and if you have spent much time in rural Lincoln County then you know there are places where cell signals are painfully weak.

At this week’s hearing, Wicker stressed the importance of expanding broadband to rural and underserved communities.

“It is vitally important that the Federal Communications Commission take steps to ensure that the Universal Service Fund program provide adequate and predictable support to help preserve and expand broadband in rural and underserved communities,” he said. “We should ensure the delivery of essential communications services to communities in need first.”

We agree. If more is not done to expand high-speed internet in rural areas, the digital divide will continue to keep advancements in IoT technology — as well as countless other benefits — from reaching everyone.