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Rural Broadband

On November 4, 2008, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted rules that would allow unused airwaves abutting broadcast television spectrum to be available for wireless broadband1. Opening these airwaves, which are commonly called television white spaces, is expected to lead to improved wireless connectivity and considerable innovation in Internet based products and services. Advocates say that the new rules could significantly upgrade the range and quality of broadband services across rural America. This change is just one of many decisions, policies, reports, and pieces of legislation concerning improved broadband deployment that have appeared in recent months.
This brief has been prepared to give policymakers and practitioners with interests in rural development some background on the issues and opportunities associated with rural broadband, as a basis for wiser public choice on investment in rural places.
What is broadband?
The term broadband refers to any technology that transmits data across the Internet at high speeds and is always on as compared with a dial up system that must be connected each time a user wishes to access the Internet. Broadband systems have a two way stream of data: upstream for sending data and downstream for receiving data.
Broadband services in the United States are most often delivered by telephone companies on digital subscriber line (DSL) systems using conventional phone lines and by cable television providers over coaxial cable lines. In some locations, alternative wired systems such as fiber optic cable and broadband over power line services are offered. There is increasing competition from wireless providers who deliver services either from towers or through satellite systems to a receiver at end user locations. Wireless systems can be terrestrial or fixed , which provide broadband to a fixed location such as a home or a business, or mobile for use with handheld devices. The FCC, which is the regulatory agency for all forms of telecommunications, defines basic broadband as the ability to carry data downstream at a minimum of 768 kilobits per second (kbps)2. The Commission continues to apply its old minimum speed of 200 kbps in either direction to first generation services , and also defines faster broadband tiers that increase from 768 kbps to over 100 megabytes per second (mbps)ii.
Upstream and downstream speeds are important to the definition and consumer experience of broadband. The two way speeds determine the amount and quality of data than can be transmitted. Complex and data rich applications such as video sharing (YouTube being one of the fastest growing segments of the Internet) require high speeds to both upload and download streaming images. Videoconferencing, an increasingly important tool for business and rural health care, requires high speeds that are equivalent in both directions to avoid lagging video images. For more common applications such as e mail and general web browsing, a speed of 768 kbps is usually adequate.
Why is broadband important to rural America?
In a very short period of time, the Internet has evolved from being a luxury or entertainment item to an essential type of infrastructure for business, health care, education, and government. Access to the Internet at broadband speeds and capabilities has become a necessary tool for engagement in the modern American economy and culture.
Robert Atkinson of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation and Jon Peha of Carnegie Mellon University have both argued that high speed Internet is more than a consumer good, and that broadband provides benefits to society as a whole. Atkinson calls broadband a prosumer technology that stimulates economic growth because users can also become producers3. Atkinson and Peha both note the network effects of increasing Internet access4, where the more people who have high speed Internet, the more useful it becomes. The private market has done an effective job of deploying competitive broadband services to well populated and high income areas, but where broadband is still not available, households and businesses cannot readily access the resources and benefits that the Internet provides. Both Atkinson and Peha believe that in order to ensure that the benefits are widely shared, government intervention is warranted to expand the broadband market areas not adequately served by the private market most notably rural America.
The positive economic impacts of broadband deployment on rural businesses, consumers, and the wider economy have been noted by Gillet, Lehr, and Sirbu in their report to the US Economic Development Administration5. Benefits include innovations in transactions between businesses, lower costs, telecommuting, and online access to customers and potential employees. Rural consumers, in particular, benefit from online access to goods and services that are not readily available in their communities. At the state and local level, studies have shown that employment growth in non farm industries, especially in the service sector, is greater in communities that have adopted broadband systems. For every one percentage point increase in broadband penetration rate, employment is projected to increase by 0.2 to 0.3 percent per year (2), according to Crandall, Lehr and Litan Conversely, according to Atkinson, areas that lack broadband have trouble attracting new businesses than communities that have access broadband capability7. Overall, broadband availability is becoming an essential prerequisite for business development and growth.


To access the internet we need the broadband connection or fast dial up connection. Unfortunately, this has been held back by the high expenses of wiring infrastructure essential to deliver such high-speed internet access especially to private homes, small offices and rural areas, where the installation of any kind of new wires tilts the scales of the economic feasibility to a non-profitable state.

But if broadband could be served through power lines, there would be no need to build a new infrastructure. Anywhere there is electricity there could be broadband. Broadband over Power Line (BPL) is a technology which allows transmission of data over the same lines used to transmit electrical power. A computer (or any other device) would need only to plug a BPL "modem" into any outlet in an equipped building to have high-speed Internet access. BPL may offer benefits over regular cable or DSL connections: the extensive infrastructure already available appears to allow people in remote locations to access the Internet with relatively little equipment investment by the utility.


After years of development, technology to deliver high-speed data over the existing electric power delivery network has emerged in the marketplace. Called broadband over power line (BPL), this technology offers an alternative means of providing high-speed internet access, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), and other broadband services, using medium- and low- voltage lines to reach customers homes and businesses.

Broadband over Power Line (BPL), also known as Power Line Communications (PLC) is a disruptive communications technology that enables power line infrastructure landlords (electric utilities & property owners) and their system operator partners to deliver a suite of Internet Protocol (IP) based services using their existing power distribution infrastructure.

BPL transmits high frequency data signals through the same power cable network used in carrying electrical power to household/or business subscribers. In order to make use of BPL, subscribers install a modem that plugs into an ordinary electrical wall outlet and pay a subscription fee similar to those paid for other types of Internet service.


After years of development, technology to deliver high-speed data over the existing electric power delivery network has emerged in the marketplace. Called broadband over power line (BPL), this technology offers an alternative means of providing high-speed internet access, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), and other broadband services, using medium- and low- voltage lines to reach customers homes and businesses.

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