This is part 3 of BLiNQ Networks’ “Bridging the Rural-Urban Digital Divide” blog series exploring the current state of broadband internet access in rural America and the challenges customers are facing in light of social distancing and COVID-19.
I went from growing up w/ awful upload speed in the middle of nowhere, to having fiber living in LA.— razur 🍃 (@_Razur) April 28, 2020
Rural internet is AWFUL & many people don't have a choice in their provider. Most Americans can't afford $400 for emergencies. How would they afford to move for better internet?
Rural and remote communities’ connectivity needs have long been overlooked. The current state of rural internet shows how far behind broadband infrastructure is. We are increasingly witnessing the impact of this connectivity disparity on access to essential services.
Despite general improvements to internet service in rural America, connectivity developments in urban centers have been exponential in comparison. Therefore, the gap between rural and urban connectivity remains unchanged, or worse, widened.
So what are rural internet users actually looking for? Where do we need to start when addressing the rural-urban digital divide?
While the rural broadband issue is very extensive, with many political, economic, and social aspects, we need to look at the needs of rural communities for day-to-day connectivity in a simpler sense to understand how to better serve them.
We break down 5 main concerns for internet users in rural and remote areas and what matters to them about their connectivity.
One of the main dilemmas for rural customers is the lack of coverage, what’s referred to as “digital deserts”.
For large stretches of land, users do not have any viable options for connecting to the internet. Furthermore, living a single street away from the borders of a provider’s coverage map can still mean no access.
It’s not uncommon in remote areas to drive for miles to get access to the internet from a public space such as a library or a school.
Therefore, one of rural users’ main concerns is getting coverage in their areas by Internet Service Providers (ISPs).
Major ISPs shy away from providing service to those customers since it’s not economically profitable for them to deploy expensive, large fiber networks for sparsely populated locations.
They’d rather invest in new technologies for dense, urban places such as 5G deployment, where they have a much larger customer base.
So rural areas remain underserved by all types of service providers, whether it’s cable, fiber, DSL, satellite, or wireless, highlighting the need for various types of service for those communities.
Due to the lack of coverage, internet package prices in rural and remote areas vary significantly depending on service area and the type of connections. The service cost can also vary from one ISP to another.
According to BroadbandNow, fiber has the lowest average price per Mbps, followed by cable and DSL.
With barely any options available in their areas, rural users are forced to pay for the few offered expensive packages by service providers, but getting poor internet connections in return.
Access to affordable internet is especially important in rural areas where residents, who have lower average household income, pay more than their urban counterparts for slower, poorer quality service.
My parents pay the same for rural Internet as I do, a little over $100 a month. They get about 900 kilabits a second, whereas I get over 100 megabits a second in town. I get more than 120 times the bandwidth for about the same price.— Keith Burgoyne (@keithburgoyne) January 5, 2020
The FCC’s official broadband definition is download speeds of at least 25 megabits per second with upload speeds of 3 mbps.
Yet, with internet speeds that could be as slow as 0.61 Mbps, rural internet users are well behind what makes for a usable internet connection. In fact, according to the FCC’s definition, almost 40% of rural internet users lack broadband.
One more issue regarding internet speeds in rural areas is that the advertised speed by service providers are usually the maximum potential speeds, which are usually very out of touch with the speed that users end up actually receiving.
High speed internet is essential for users to be able to complete any digital task at all, whether it’s streaming videos, uploading work documents, or doing any other high-traffic online activities.
Service outages are notorious in rural and remote areas, and they can cause immense frustration, or in more extreme cases, operational flaws and long-term hindrances.
Some industries such as healthcare and manufacturing cannot risk having downtime, sudden service interruptions, or unpredictable fluctuations. Therefore, unreliable internet is stressful and counterproductive.
Good troubleshooting and customer service are essential for rural customers to be able to fix the connection problems when they arise due to a hardware malfunction, extreme weather conditions, or a variety of other reasons.
Concerns about data privacy and cybersecurity are very important to rural internet users.
Worries about ISPs spying on users online activity and collecting and selling customers private information intensify the distrust of rural communities of service providers.
Therefore, remote communities need to be reassured that their information online is private, protected, and encrypted. They are looking for ISPs that offer various anti-spam, anti-virus, anti-spyware, and anti-malware protection.
With so many folks working and learning online, there has never been a more critical time for small networks to practice good cyber security hygiene...in addition to hand washing! CyberShare | NTCA - The Rural Broadband Association #CyberShare https://t.co/woqiIMnmDK— Shirley Bloomfield (@sbloomfield15) March 20, 2020
Wireless internet service providers (WISPs) and locally built networks are constantly proving their impact on serving rural communities. They understand the needs of underserved and unconnected customers and how they can best connect them.
BLiNQ Networks offers a variety of devices for both Point-to-Point (PTP) and Point-to-Multipoint (PmP) topology. Deploying BLiNQ solutions allow wireless service providers to offer their customers in remote, rural areas high-speed, reliable, affordable internet access.
Our FW-300i is a Wireless Connectivity Solution in a Box. Offering 60-180 degree coverage and easy installation, this OnGo Certified Product helps you bring LTE connectivity to anyone, anywhere.
Our FWC CPE Series has a user-friendly interface and a fully automated deployment. It’s CC Part 96/CBRS Certified and has a built-in web server for web-based configurations.
Learn more about how BLiNQ can help you bring secure, fast, and reliable service to connect the unconnected.