Rural Internetification Project

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One of the smaller towns we tested in the NWBR was Rochelle, IL - a farming town of 10,000 people about 75 miles West of Chicago. In this case the ISP providing wireless internet service was the city itself through the Rochelle Municipal Utilities organization - along with power and water. It was an interesting experience going to the small office, right next store to the window where a citizen would pay their electric bill, to shop and sign up for Internet service ... with a variety of recommended CPE devices displayed on the wall. One the key items we argue about in building municipal networks is ownership - who should own and operate the network? And here in Rochelle was a rather good wireless network that was built by the town. And clearly where other options for broadband access offer poor performance or do not exist (The city started by offering dial-up Internet access and the wireless cellular carriers offer spectacularly poor wireless data products - the city’s networks offers roughly 20x the performance of the sadly 2G wireless cellular networks in the town.) This reminded me of the Rural Electrification Project (that had originally sponsored bringing electricity to Rochelle after WWII) - (from Wikipedia): In 1936 the Rural Electrification Act was enacted. Also, the Tennessee Valley Authority is an agency involved in rural electrification. The Rural Electrification Administration (REA), a former agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, was charged with administering loan programs for electrification and telephone service in rural areas. The REA was created in 1935 by executive order as an independent federal bureau, authorized by the United States Congress in 1936, and later in 1939, reorganized as a division of the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture. The REA undertook to provide farms with inexpensive electric lighting and power. To implement those goals the administration made long-term, self-liquidating loans to state and local governments, to farmers' cooperatives, and to nonprofit organizations; no loans were made directly to consumers. In 1949 the REA was authorized to make loans for telephone improvements; in 1988, REA was permitted to give interest-free loans for job creation and rural electric systems. By the early 1970s about 98% of all farms in the United States had electric service, a demonstration of REA's success. The administration was abolished in 1994 and its functions assumed by the Rural Utilities Service. The Rural Electrification Administration (REA) was an agency of the United States federal government created on May 11, 1935 through efforts of the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The REA's task was to promote electrification in rural areas, which in the 1930s rarely were provided with electricity due to the unwillingness of power companies to serve farmsteads. America lagged significantly behind European countries in rural electrification. Private electric utilities argued that the government had no right to compete with or regulate private enterprise, despite many of these utilities having refused to extend their lines to rural areas, claiming lack of profitability. Since private power companies set rural rates four times as high as city rates, this was a self-fulfilling prophecy.[1] Under the REA program there was no direct government competition to private enterprise. Instead, REA made loans available to local electrification cooperatives, which operated lines and distributed electricity. By 1939 the REA served 288,000 households, prompting private business to extend service into the countryside and to lower rates. By the end of the decade, forty percent of rural homes had power, up from around 10% in 1930. From 1949, the REA could also provide assistance to co-operative telephone companies. In ten years, rural electrification increased from 10% of rural homes to 40% by 1940. So why can’t we use this already successful model of the Rural Electrification Project as the basis for government deploying broadband, particularly in less developed areas? While some of the early attempts at municipal wireless were not considered successful (Philadelphia, for example) they had the clear effect of dropping the local cost of wired broadband access. Competition beyond the entrenched monopolies of DSL and cable is a good thing.

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