Four land grant universities working on rural broadband issues commented on the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s (NTIA) www.ntia.doc.gov “National Broadband Research Agenda” published in the Federal Register, September 9, 2016 pages 2479-62481.
The letter from the universities to NTIA were submitted by Mississippi State University www.msstate,edu, Oklahoma State University http://go.okstate.edu, Washington State University https://wsu.edu, and the University of Nebraska, Lincoln www.unl.edu.
The universities are doing research on the best technologies to use to provide service to rural areas. The universities are also involved in outreach efforts through extension services enabling rural individuals, tribes, and communities to take advantage of the benefits broadband offers.
The comments in response discussed the fact that although wireless connections are available across the nation, official broadband speeds aren’t being achieved. Under FCC’s definition of broadband speed at 25 MBPS down, and 3 MBPS up, the rural urban access gap is significant. More than 39 percent of rural Americans and about 63 percent of Tribal land residents lack these speeds.
Further, cost and data cap issues undermine the potential of the technology to reduce the digital divide. Data and research is needed to study which technology offers the most promise for reaching rural areas. This includes the possibility of developing partnerships between rural cooperatives and private broadband providers to work together to deploy broadband.
Older adults using laptops, tablets, smartphones and user interfaces is highly represented in rural areas which needs to take advantage of broadband access. Also, as technologies improve and new technologies enter the market, the federal government should support further research on implementation and effective use for older adults.
Research is needed to help federal agencies update funding program criteria to meet the needs of current and future technology solutions for USDA DLT cloud-based applications and desktop applications as opposed to large, expensive videoconferencing units.
Critical data for broadband adoption especially cost data is important, however no public data is available on the average cost paid for a monthly broadband connection. This is needed to better understand broadband adoption and utilization. Often traditional data sources do not reach those individuals in most need of broadband such as persons living on tribal lands and the disabled.
Support should be given for the role of Extension Services. Outreach efforts such as those offered by the Extension Service can not only help people to use technology but also generate data for outcome evaluation purposes. Extension Services also do important work with rural and tribal communities seeking to improve adoption.