Connect Americans Now (CAN) hosted a presentation and roundtable discussion on the coalition’s plan to unleash new technology that promises to help eliminate Montana’s digital divide by 2022.
“The advancement of TV white space technology presents a remarkable opportunity for rural Montana businesses and communities,” said Brent Mead, CEO of the Montana Policy Institute. “With Montana currently ranked by the FCC as second from the bottom in terms of broadband access, we are glad that CAN is stepping up to offer a solution to the digital divide in rural Montana and hope that the FCC will finalize rules that would make the new technology of TV white spaces available for commercial use. Delivering broadband over unutilized television spectrum is a smart compliment to the ongoing efforts to build out fiber to reach underserved communities.”
To provide affordable and reliable service in rural communities, CAN seeks to deploy a combination of “wired” and “wireless” technologies, including fiber-based, satellite and wireless technologies, leveraging a range of frequencies including TV white spaces. To make this plan a reality, CAN is urging the FCC to ensure that three channels below 700 MHz are available for wireless use on an unlicensed basis in every market in the country.
“From students unable to complete their assignments to farmers who lack precision agriculture tools, life on the wrong side of the digital divide is a daily struggle for nearly 20 million rural Americans,” said Richard T. Cullen, Executive Director of CAN. “Today’s discussion represents a vital step toward creating regulatory certainty around solutions that will connect thousands of Montana families. We look forward to working with our local partners like the Montana Policy Institute to show lawmakers how much is at stake and support policies in Washington that will close the digital divide once and for all.”
Implications of the Digital Divide in Montana and Around the U.S.
* 6.5 million students lack access to high speed internet, but 70 percent of teachers assign homework that requires a broadband connection. More than 46,000 Montana students reside in rural areas, where more students struggle to keep up with their assignments and fail to learn the computer skills they need to succeed and enter college or the workforce.
* Telemedicine could collectively save lives and millions of dollars annually for underserved patients and rural hospitals that pay up to three times more for broadband than their urban counterparts. Ninety-six percent of Montana’s hospitals are in rural areas, and broadband connectivity could allow their patients, regardless of where they live, to access specialists and benefit from advanced monitoring services that would normally require hours of travel for patients or their providers
* ?Montana is home to more than 28,000 farms, and broadband access could bring them promise of precision agriculture, including remote monitoring equipment that helps farmers save money by optimizing irrigation, conserving resources and increasing yields. It also allows farmers to search for new customers, find buyers willing to pay higher prices and identify the most affordable sources of seeds, fertilizers and farm equipment.
* Small businesses employ 67 percent of Montana’s workforce, and broadband access will drive economic growth and job opportunities by enabling them to expand their customer base from local to global and attract new industries to rural communities.
* High-speed internet supports workforce development by allowing rural job seekers to access services online, develop new skills through cloud-based training and secure additional employment opportunities like remote teleworking. It will also allow rural communities to keep and attract new workers who require a broadband connection to carry out their daily responsibilities.