Digital divide just got tougher in rural areas

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Digital divide just got tougher in rural areas

The digital divide is causing headaches for rural workers required to work from home during the coronavirus pandemic.

Jeff Johnston, lead economist with CoBank, tells Brownfield the increased daily demand for broadband is causing some carriers to slow data speeds which hampers video calls, for example.  Big carriers like Verizon can invest more capital to increase capacity.

“But for small, rural operators that are already working in thin margins to begin with and need a lot of government support in order to even make that business model work could be very problematic.”

And then, Johnston says there are rural workers who have no internet or unreliable internet making them unable to work from home.

He says there is no easy, short-term fix, saying, “The capacity issues right now, it’s tough to pull any one lever right now to be able to address these problems.”

The long-term fix, he says, is more federal money put into broadband expansion and new creative business models where internet carriers can share costs.

Federal money for broadband expansion now comes from land line phone service, which is shrinking. He says it needs to be a tax on broadband services.

{Brownfield’s Meghan Grebner interviews Jeff Johnston}

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