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Report: Slow Going Internet Access "Cripples" Rural Economies

April 27, 2011

WATERTOWN, N.Y. - Without broadband Internet access, rural communities will be economically hobbled, warns a new report. However, portions of rural New York are making progress toward better high-speed access, with the help of federal stimulus money.

The report by the Center for Rural Strategies, a rural media watchdog group, points out that the Internet is the new norm for communication, both in business and social life. Without fast connectivity, rural businesses are at a distinct disadvantage to their competitors.

James Wright, executive director of the Development Authority of the North Country, agrees. He says far-flung parts of rural New York - and much of America - are very underserved.

"The general description is accurate, which is why you have a federal initiative to extend broadband."

Nearly $40 million in stimulus funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act have enabled the Authority to begin an expansion of some 550 miles of fiber-optic lines into communities between the St. Lawrence River and Adirondack Park.

Public dollars - at the state and federal level - will help bring high-speed Internet access to the nation's interior, Wright says.

"Our economy and the future economy are going to be dependent upon connections to the global economy. That means having reliable, fast access to global communications, and that's what broadband brings to the region."

The Center for Rural Strategies report concludes that having access to broadband is "simply treading water or keeping up. Not having it means sinking."

Dr. Sharon Strover of the University of Texas, who compiled the report, points out that a company with narrow Internet bandwidth will have difficulty doing even basic daily business functions.

"If you've ever tried to pull up a graphic image on a dial-up connection, you are waiting, conventionally, for a really long time. That means that, in order to do something as simple as ordering a part, you're at a huge disadvantage without broadband."

Strover sees some encouraging signs for rural dwellers still awaiting fast Internet connections, however.

"I believe that the FCC and other federal agencies are taking this far more seriously than they ever did. The money that the stimulus funding pumped into broadband should help."

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is expected to report this year - as it did last year - that broadband providers are not expanding their services in a timely and satisfactory fashion.

The report is online at

Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - NY