Technology enables sharing and access to unprecedented levels of information through the Internet, allowing people to communicate, learn, work and earn money from anywhere they have an Internet connection. For those living in rural communities without broadband or wireless services, access to information is not equal. Getting a signal for a mobile device, for instance, has often meant throwing on a coat and driving into town. Abundant and accessible communication infrastructure makes life easier.
As of September 10, 2018, The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in their Eighth Broadband Progress Report found that nearly 25% of rural Americans have difficulty gaining access to high-speed Internet, compared to urban dwellers at 13% and suburban users at 9%. While suburban communities seem to be the most online accessible communities, followed by urban centers, over 19% of Americans live in rural markets. Of these 60 million individuals, 15 million struggle to access the Internet.
Digital transformation requires dedication, and in some cases, an overhaul of communications infrastructure to improve or even provide access to the Internet. Digital transformation, and thus enablement, provides equal opportunity to information and opportunities that improve traditional processes. Things begin to improve when digital transformation comes to rural communities through fiber and wireless buildouts. Infrastructure and those who are building it are fueling these life opportunities. Simply put, fiber and wireless services transform the lives of rural communities, equalizing access to information and thus a greater amount of choices.
Leveling the Playing Field
When technology comes to town, one noticeable benefit is the ability to get a cell signal from the comforts of home. That wireless enablement requires fiber. Fiber is the nervous system sending information across the country. Fiber-to-the-Tower (FTTT) and Fiber-to-the-Building (FTTB) literally lay the groundwork for wireless communications such as LTE, 4G, and soon to be 5G and CBRS, Wi-Fi, and LTE. This type of connectivity creates measurable results in three areas:
Area 1: Rural Healthcare
Digital transformation is helping medical facilities provide better treatment for patients in rural areas. High-speed Internet allows physicians to search files, consult with specialists, speak with remote patients, and improve patient outcomes. Leveraging technology is one thing but accessing professionals who can review, evaluate and process the information is another. MRI, radiology, health records, and speedy contact with experts, helps get proper treatment to patients more quickly. Doctors can use remote diagnostics and alternative healthcare delivery methods to better save lives.
Given the proper connectivity, the Internet of Things (IoT) can be leveraged when treating patients. Healthcare professionals and researchers use connected devices in the direct care and monitoring of patients. The data these devices collect is stored and processed centrally, allowing specialists access to this granular insight about their patients while enabling analysts to predict trends to ensure patients are receiving the best care.
Another important consideration is patient self-care. In an independent study done in February 2019, HealthITAnalytics reports 53% of patients who shared electronic health data and Google search history after an emergency room visit had googled information “directly related to their chief complaint in the week before their visit.” This academic study also revealed that close to two-thirds (66%) of patients are shown to increase the health-related searches in the 7 days leading up to the emergency room visit.
Area 2: Quality of Education
Teachers need connected laptops to enable video lectures and e-learning that can be shared across the world. Students can follow individualized learning paths to develop their strengths. That said, students must also have access to Internet at home to complete homework and extend their learning experiences. Without it, students often race through their online work while still at school or aftercare, allowing less time to focus on their lessons. With online courses and national testing materials available, schools no longer need to rely on outdated methods. Fiber optic providers and wireless Internet service providers (WISPs) elevate the K-12 educational landscape from the classroom to the home.
Colleges and universities require high-speed access to stay competitive and to ensure their degree programs remain relevant in today’s modern age. For example, agricultural programs aim to educate students on how to use sensors and monitoring equipment to manage crops, smart water systems, and dairy operations. One example of this training may be found at the University of Missouri.
Connected devices, like livestock ear tags and security cameras, help future farmers manage herds and improve efficiency — all the while reducing costs. The data these programs capture can be downloaded effortlessly with the right bandwidth speed, saving students hours that were previously required to manually collect this data.
Area 3: Rural Communities Growth Opportunities
With 25% of rural residents lacking Internet access, infrastructure build-outs are still very much needed. According to BroadbandNow.com, only 25.7% of Missourians have access to fiber optic service. A Wichita State University study is finding a growing number of residents from 62 of the 105 counties in that state are leaving. The Number One reason cited is the gap in the Digital Divide, brought on by the lack of access to high-speed Internet.
Broadband is what conquers the Digital Divide and helps end the feeling of isolation experienced by many people in these areas, particularly younger generations who must adapt to the use of technology to improve their future workforce opportunities. Quality of life is living where you want without sacrificing the comforts of technology. More people move into rural areas where they can maintain their standard of living. When connectivity is optimal, existing or new businesses can reach the world, attracting high-quality, enterprising employees, no matter where they reside.
With that knowledge, companies are increasingly moving into rural communities that provide and offer a solid technology infrastructure, bringing jobs and a path upward for local economies. Companies like Amazon go where they have fiber technology and robust wireless, for the business and for the employees who run it, proving the point that communications infrastructure supports community growth.
Moreover, in rural areas where high-speed Internet is currently available, Agri pulse reports that even small businesses and farms are benefitting from the expanded capabilities the Internet provides. With agricultural schools integrating technology solutions into their programs, deployment of these solutions has helped improve crop performance, monitoring of herds and improving their accessibility to customers. Websites and data collection help keep tabs on the business in the office and on-the-go from the convenience of mobile devices.
Another story about the importance of Internet in rural areas comes from AG Magazine, about a bidder who was able to buy a bull for a record price of $1.5 million through online bidding. Ranchers, farmers, and other rural occupations and their related industries, benefit greatly from online livestock auctions, and access to information, wide-scale communication available only through the Internet.
Finally, Smart Farming, otherwise referred to as bio-logical farming, is another product of this digital revolution, made possible through the Internet of Things’ seamless information representation, data analytics, and ubiquitous sensing. Smart Farming results in increased capacity and quality of agricultural production based upon applications of sensing technologies that allow food producers to be more scientific through the practice of precision agriculture.
Fiber Feeds Rural Communities
Getting fiber into rural areas allows WISPs to get their boots on the ground to provide local service to small businesses and consumers. Expansion within a single community, or by adding others, is faster when fiber optic companies work in tandem with WISPs. Having a trusted fiber optic company to partner with and manage the fiber backbone gives WISPs more opportunity to prioritize where and when to expand operations and deliver services to customers.
Your fiber optic provider should specialize in helping WISPs through Strategic Network Partnerships. Look for a network partner that has an extended fiber optic reach into the areas your company wants to grow to facilitate speedier deployments. Your network partner should be able to design and install the best fiber route for your rural build out. Form a solid partnership with a company that will support your priorities.