Fw: October 4, 1999 Overcoming Obstacles to Rural Telecommunications

H. C. Covington -- I CAN America (icanamerica@email.msn.com)
Mon, 4 Oct 1999 16:05:39 -0500

Community Economics
A Newsletter from the Center for Community Economic Development; Community,
Natural Resource and Economic Development Programs, and University of
Cooperative Extension Service
Overcoming Obstacles to Rural Telecommunications
by Thomas D. Rowley*

In spite of the importance of being connected, many rural areas continue to
face one or more obstacles in obtaining and benefiting from advanced

Among the obstacles are those resulting from the lack of a competitive
market in rural areas, regulations that fail to adequately address rural
concerns, physical distance and remoteness, and inadequate familiarity with
and training in advanced services on the part of end users.

Still, some rural areas have gained access to advanced telecommunications
and are benefiting. The obstacles can be overcome. Recent research indicates
several approaches that might be helpful.1

Using regulatory and property management procedures to improve access to
advanced telecommunications. Franchise ordinances, lease agreements, and
rights-of-way usage rules all offer opportunities to ensure that a community
gets a better deal from providers.

Using government purchasing power to create a buyer’s market. The way
government uses telecommunications, whom the government purchases services
from, what services it purchases, and how it purchases them all influence
the quality, quantity, and cost of telecommunications services within a

Developing publicly owned infrastructure. Sometimes, government may choose
to build its own infrastructure through a public-private partnership or a
municipal utility.

Likewise, participants in a recent conference discussed a number of
approaches to improving rural access.2

Using Rural Area Networks (RANs). Overcoming the lack of demand for advanced
telecommunications is perhaps the single largest obstacle that rural areas
face in a market environment. One way to generate that demand is to pool
various users. RANs, a concept proposed by the Office of Technology
Assessment, are …shared-usage networks, configured to include a wide range
of users in rural communities. RANs would allow rural communities to pool
their demand for advanced telecommunications services in order to justify
and share the cost of sophisticated equipment that individual users could
not otherwise afford or fully utilize. RANs would not be isolated
‘technology islands,’ but would connect rural areas with the rest of the

Interconnecting to urban networks. Another way is to interconnect with the
urban portion of an existing network. This “piggybacking” eliminates the
need to build duplicate infrastructure in rural areas and requires that a
rural community pay only for the cost of extending the connection to the
network. Unfortunately, the owners of the urban network—telephone
companies—have little or no incentive to allow for interconnection, since it
means the rural telephone company can then compete with them for business
and profits and it takes away some of the capacity of their system to serve
their own customers.

Using wireless technologies. These technologies—such as microwave and
radio--are particularly promising for remote rural areas since they
eliminate the need for stretching miles and miles of wire or cable. Many
agree that wireless will become the dominant technology for the most remote
and lowest density telephone loops. There are some limits, however, since
wireless is confined to voice, fax, and low- speed data transmission. In
addition, the technology is quite expensive, requiring towers and

Working with alternative providers. Large telephone companies, including the
Regional Bells are unlikely in a deregulated environment to provide rural
America with the services it needs. They simply do not have the incentives.
Instead, smaller phone companies, electric utilities, cable television
companies, and municipalities are often in the best position to ensure that
communities get what they need. In fact, may rural telephone exchanges have
been sold by large companies to smaller, independent companies and in most
cases the facilities and services were upgraded and improved.4

The methods will, of course, vary, but the need for local planning and
involvement will not, nor will the need for training and education. Without
the former, any efforts are likely to be misinformed, misguided, and miss
the boat. Without the latter, all the rest is for naught. All the nifty
technology in the world won’t improve the lives of rural people, if they can
’t or won’t use it.
For a copy of the report, “Rural Telecommunications: Why Your Community Isn’
t Connected and What You Can Do About It”, from which this excerpt is taken,
please call the TVA Rural Studies Program at (888) 885-9800 or go to
 HYPERLINK http://www.rural.org }www.rural.org.
1 Fidelman, Miles “Telecommunications Strategies for Local Governments”
International City/County Management Association, August 1998.

2 TVA Rural Studies, Rural America at the Crossroads Follow-up Report. TVA
Rural Studies, 1998.

3 U.S. Congress, Office of Technology Assessment, Rural America at the
Crossroads: Networking for the Future. Washington, DC.: U.S., Government
fPrinting Office, April 1991.

4 Parker E. “Telecommunications and Rural Development: Threats and
Opportunities.” In Rural America at the Crossroads Follow-Up Report. TVA
Rural Studies, 1998.

*Thomas D. Rowley is a private consultant and an be reached at:
Ron Shaffer
Community Development Specialist


**In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this material is
distributed without charge or profit to those who have expressed a prior
interest in receiving this type of information for non-profit research and
educational purposes only.**

H. C. Covington  icanamerica@msn.com