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Lawyer Michael Avenatti arrested on a domestic violence charge. Also on the Thursday rundown: More testimony on Ohio's "anti-protest" bill; and we'll take you to the Dakotas to celebrate American Education Week.

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Does Slow Internet Access Affect Rural OR Economy, Jobs?

May 2, 2011

LAKEVIEW, Ore. - Large portions of Oregon are at risk of falling behind the times when it comes to having access to speedy, broadband Internet. A new study ranks the state 22nd in the nation for broadband speed, saying half of Oregonians have connection speeds of less than the recommended minimum of four megabits per second. That's hurting the state's economy, according to a new report on broadband access.

Without broadband access, rural communities will lose opportunities to places with higher-speed connections, according to the report, released by the Center for Rural Strategies, a media watchdog group.

Dr. Sharon Strover with the University of Texas, who compiled the report, says with a slow Internet connection, doing even basic daily business functions can hamper a small company.

"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, without broadband you're at a huge disadvantage."

Strover points to some encouraging signs, however. She says the Federal Communications Commission and other federal agencies are taking Internet expansion issues seriously, and she notes that some stimulus money was pumped into increasing broadband access.

Oregon's least populous county has seen a big push to get better Internet access. Residents of Lake County now have at least half a dozen choices.

Marcia Hughes with Goose Lake Computing, Lakeview, says the more remote the area, the more important the Internet becomes.

"For us, for example, to get to any place to do any kind of shopping, we have to drive 100 miles. It's not uncommon for folks in eastern Oregon to be quite a way away from anything like that, so the Internet becomes a real lifeline."

The Center for Rural Strategies report concludes that having access to broadband is "simply treading water or keeping up. Not having it means sinking." Studies rank the United States overall between 25th and 29th in the world in terms of Internet speed.

The report, "Scholars' Roundtable: The Effects of Expanding Broadband to Rural Areas," is online at www.ruralstrategies.org.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR