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Report: Slow Internet Access Cripples Rural AZ Economies

April 28, 2011

PHOENIX - Many Americans are accustomed to fast Internet connections, but it's still slow going in rural parts of Arizona. In nearly half of the state, Internet service fails to meet the minimum federal broadband standard of 4 megabits per second.

A new report about broadband access in rural America says communities without it will be economically crippled, losing out on opportunities to those with high-speed connections.

Dr. Sharon Strover of the University of Texas, who compiled the new report, says that with a slow connection even basic daily functions can put a small business at a big disadvantage.

"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 just a huge disadvantage without broadband."

The new report, issued by the Center for Rural Strategies, a media watchdog group, concludes that in a sink-or-swim world, communities without high-speed access will sink. Experts rank the U.S. 29th in the world - and slipping - in communications technology.

Strover sees some encouraging signs for rural dwellers still waiting for fast Internet connections.

"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."

Parts of four remote Native American reservations in Arizona will be getting high-speed Internet thanks to $33 million in federal stimulus funds. Another $7 million will be spent on a pair of rural off-reservation projects. Ground is expected to be broken on the projects later this year.

The report, "Scholars' Roundtable: The Effects of Expanding Broadband to Rural Areas," is online at ruralstrategies.org. Information on Internet access speed is available at SpeedMatters.org.

Doug Ramsey, Public News Service - AZ