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High-speed internet still lags in rural areas

Bret Jaspers

Federal numbers on broadband access came out late last month, and although there were improvements over 2015, rural areas still showed high percentages of people without access to high speed internet.  

Rural areas are notorious for having low levels of online access because it’s not worth it for telecom companies to install new, faster infrastructure for a relatively small number of customers.

And the need for more and better access keeps growing. The FCC changed its definition of “high speed” last year to 25 megabits per second for downloads, three mbps for uploads. Rob Frieden of Penn State says it’s good the FCC recognizes the need for more speed as web applications get more complex, but unfortunately, there's no enforcement mechanism. "There’s no way for the FCC to mandate that any ISP, internet service provider, upgrade their service. [The commission’s] certainly relying on the marketplace for that."

Enter New York State, which released more details of its broadband program in December. It will award grants to companies proposing to serve rural areas. The state wants private companies to come up with at least half the costs, with service ready by 2018.

The question is, will the state’s plan entice telecom companies to provide those high speeds? Bidding for the state grants opens later this month.