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Rural Communities Are Making Their Own Connections

Local leaders take the lead when internet providers won’t provide service

This article is adapted from the AARP Rural Livability Workshop Report. Information about downloading or ordering the free publication can be found at the end of this page.

“In the mid-2000s, several towns in east-central Vermont determined that robust broadband telecommunications services were a necessary part of their continued sustainability,” explains the history page on the website of ECFiber, the local internet provider.

“Local broadband committees reached out to wireless service providers, but wireless proved to be unsatisfactory in our hilly wooded terrain.” In response, two dozen small towns joined forces to create ECFiber.

Vermont Internet Fiber Map

The cluster of colored squiggles represent ECFiber’s present and planned coverage area. The “nonprofit fiber-to-the-premises network” connected its first customers in 2011 and promotes itself as providing “Wicked fast internet for rural Vermont.” As of mid-2019, the network was serving 3,500 customers, who paid $66 a month for basic internet (25 megabits per second) or $149 for high-speed (700 mbps) service.

When residents of rural St. Francis, Kansas, felt the burden of the digital divide, they reached out to Eagle Communications, which brought high-speed internet to the town. Every home and business now has access to St. Francis’ fiber network. After more than five decades of losing population, the town is seeing new businesses open shop and home construction is on the rise.

Fiber for a Local Future

Maine Internet Connection Fiber Poster

Photo by Melissa Stanton, AARP

A poster in a storefront window promotes a community-based effort to provide the Mount Katahdin region of Maine with “lightning-fast, responsive, stable, and affordable fiber internet connections for every home and business — at no cost to the community and without using taxpayer dollars.”

Internet access in Grayson County, Virginia, was so lacking that residents described their connectivity as “advanced dial-up.” In March 2019, the state’s governor signed legislation that will bring high-speed internet to the rural county. The delegate who advocated for the service declared, “We’re way past the point where broadband is a simple luxury. It’s as much a necessity these days as electricity.”

A community-created internet carrier could help Project MILES in Larimer County, Wyoming. MILES is an acronym for Mobility, Inclusiveness, Locations, Everywhere, Simple. The idea is that people should be able to find appropriate transportation services with one click or one call. The larger goal is to use data and local resources to build “systemic solutions” rather than short-term programs. As noted after the project’s test pilot, however, solutions can’t be delivered by smart software alone.

“All software services with real time driver information transfer will require internet and/or satellite service,” states the pilot summary. “A One-Click/One-Call service will need to have processes in place to address the needs of riders who reside in and drivers traveling to rural areas with limited connectivity.”

This article is adapted from the AARP Rural Workshop Livability Report.


Page published April 2020

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