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Coalition aims to bridge ‘digital divide’

Connect Americans Now, which launched Jan. 2, is building partnerships across the country to bring high-speed internet to rural America.

By GEORGE PLAVEN

Capital Press

Published on January 10, 2018 8:31AM

Last changed on January 10, 2018 1:06PM

A coalition called Connect Americans Now supports providing broadband internet service to rural areas.

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A coalition called Connect Americans Now supports providing broadband internet service to rural areas.

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During his speech Monday at the American Farm Bureau Federation convention in Nashville, Tenn., President Donald Trump signed two executive orders aimed at improving broadband internet access to rural America.

A new coalition based in Washington, D.C., is also building local partnerships across the country to lay the regulatory foundation for bridging what it calls the “digital divide.”

Connect Americans Now, which launched Jan. 2, believes it can pave the way for high-speed internet in every market nationwide by 2022. That would be a big deal for Northwest farmers and ranchers looking to adopt web-powered precision irrigation tools, such as real-time soil moisture monitors, to increase yields while reducing costs.

“As any farmer will tell you, it takes more than grit and determination to be successful in today’s market,” said Zachary Cikanek, a national spokesman for the coalition. “We need to let farmers access modern technologies.”

Several Oregon counties and farm groups, including the Oregon Farm Bureau and Oregon Cattlemen’s Association, have joined the coalition in recent days. Roughly 16 percent of the state population lives in rural areas, according to the USDA Economic Research Service.

More than 34 million Americans are without access to affordable, reliable broadband service, Cikanek said. Of those, 23.4 million live in rural communities.

“This gap is something we think we can bridge in the next five years if we roll out the right combination of technology,” Cikanek said.

The coalition recently announced it will work with the Federal Communications Commission to establish policies that will allow rural broadband to flourish — namely by using what are known as “TV white spaces.”

TV white space refers to unused channels in television broadcasting, which act as interference buffers between active channels. The spectrum ranges from 470 to 790 megahertz, similar to what is used for 4G wireless networks.

If the FCC agrees to leave at least three white space channels vacant in every market, it may lead to more capital investment in rural high-speed internet service, Cikanek said.

“Right now, we are focused on regulatory certainty from the FCC,” he said.

Richard Cullen, executive director of Connect Americans Now, said all Americans deserve access to high-speed internet, regardless of where they live.

“Without a broadband connection, millions of students struggle to keep up with their assignments, Americans in rural areas are unable to fully utilize telemedicine, farmers are denied the promise of precision agriculture and businesses are unable to tap into the world of online commerce,” Cullen said in a statement. “Congress and the FCC must stand with rural America by allowing internet service providers to deliver broadband via white spaces spectrum.”

Cullen also praised the Trump administration’s dedication to rural broadband on Monday following his speech at the American Farm Bureau Federation convention.

“No one has more grit and determination than American farmers, and we are excited to hear that President Trump is focused on unleashing that productivity by bringing broadband service into more rural communities,” Cullen said.



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