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Opinion: Broadband still elusive 50 years after internet’s birth

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On Oct. 29, historians and computer scientists celebrated the 50th birthday of the internet. On that day in 1969, the very first login to the internet occurred. The “birth” connected a terminal at University of California-Los Angeles to the Stanford Research Institute, about 350 miles away.

We have made unfathomable progress in the past 50 years. Unfortunately, that progress has been unevenly distributed. Rural and low-income Americans are increasingly on the wrong side of a growing digital divide.

According to the Federal Communications Commission, nearly 68% of those without home broadband live in rural communities. The FCC also found that only 53% of adults with incomes below $30,000 have broadband at home, compared with 95% of those making over $75,000.

Too often, well-off urban and suburban areas are plugged in to the modern economy and culture, while rural residents are left behind. Abandoning our homes, farms and rural communities and moving to the city is not a realistic solution. We need our rural areas. They produce our food and the fiber that makes our clothes. They grow much of our fuel, and they provide a stable base upon which the rest of our economy sits. We need to strengthen our foundations, not abandon them.

For example, taking better care of the land is a high priority for farmers. One of the best ways to improve stewardship is by using less fertilizer and fewer pesticides. Precision farming – using high-tech data collection, soil testing and mapping – reduces the need for these inputs. It also can reduce farmers’ costs and increase yields at the same time, making it a win-win solution.

Unfortunately, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported in 2017 that 29% of U.S. farms have no access to the internet whatsoever, much less broadband access. Without broadband connections, farmers cannot use these breakthrough technologies to improve their operations.

Missouri has lagged behind other states in broadband deployment. Research by BroadbandNow.com places us 41st in broadband connectivity – an abysmal ranking on such a critical need for our state’s future.

In recent years, Missouri has taken steps to improve its broadband deployment. In 2018, the state created an Office of Broadband Development within the Department of Economic Development. This year, the state legislature followed Gov. Mike Parson’s lead and appropriated $5 million to fund a broadband grant program. It will help rural and underserved areas gain access to high-quality service at affordable prices.

Personal stories of ordinary Missourians’ struggles and successes make a big difference. Go to MOFB.org/broadband and tellMissouri Farm Bureau how broadband, or lack thereof, affects you. Together, we can make rural Missouri stronger and better-prepared for the future.

Eric Bohl is director of public affairs for the Missouri Farm Bureau in Columbia. He can be reached at publicaffairs@mofb.com.

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Tony

We have broadband. But it's a Verizon 4G data module connected to a directional antenna on a pole. On a good day, we can get 4 Megabits. Part of the time.

That's what it takes, out here. Where there is no cable, much less cable modems. And Dallas county is served by AT&T which can't even maintain a decent analog phone line, much less support DSL. If we wanted to took up a modem, we MIGHT be able to connect at 28.8 kb/s.

Yes, we could be using HughesNet. And they've managed to get the ping times down to ONLY 950 milleseconds. And, contrary to what their ads say, yes, an electrical thunderstorm to the south of us WILL result in our losing connectivity.

WildBlue, which we had before, was 1800 - 1900 milliseconds. As in approx. 2 seconds between clicking something and something starting to happen. It "faded" when there was a storm to the south and HughesNet bought their satellites and spectrum.

We're running 60 - 90 msec ping times with Verizon 4G. That's workable for connecting into remote systems and working. 950 ... not so much.

Neither Verizon 4G nor HughesNet is uncapped, though. We pay a pile of money for 30 GB / month.

AT&T has gotten how many hundreds of millions of $ to roll-out broadband in rural areas? Much of that has gone into executive "compensation" rather than actual rural broadband.

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