Michael and I got connected to Reedsburg Utility’s fiber optic network today.
Our internet connection speed jumped from 130 kbps upload and 784 kbps download to 5 mbps upload and 10 mbps download. In other words, 40x faster upload and 12x faster download. The difference is remarkable. Websites actually load now, and even the slowest of the slow (think Barnes and Noble) snap right in. It is just astounding.
I know that high speed broadband is the norm in urban and suburban areas, but it isn’t in rural areas. In most of rural America, folks have to deal with dial up, slow DSL (the distances are too great for faster DSL) or satellite connectivity. We’ve got connectivity, but the speeds aren’t comparable.
I called Frontier customer service after I was satisfied that the FIOS connection was stable, and cancelled DSL. The representative, a youngish-sounding man from Washington, asked me why I was cancelling, and when I told him that we now had fiber optic, he blurted out “That’s great!”.
I don’t suppose that was what he was supposed to say, but he understood high speed broadband, and we talked a bit about the importance of high speed broadband to economic development in rural areas while he was waiting on Frontier’s systems to process the cancellation order. Fiber optic opens the door to better education, business communication and many other things that are critical to economic growth and sustainability.
Frontier Communications has been a leader in deploying DSL to rural areas, and that’s great, too. But DSL, particularly the slower-speed DSL that is economically feasible in rural areas, isn’t up to the job. Fiber optic is. 4thGen satellite (10 mbps down, 1 mbps up) is, too, although I suppose that 4thGen satellite is subject to the weather interruptions Michael and I experience with satellite TV.
Fiber optic is a good example of government/private partnership.
Our area is getting fiber optic as part of the federal government’s infrastructure stimulus program. Reedsburg Utility, a smallish but heads-up utility company serving northwestern Sauk County, applied for and got stimulus money for the project, which covers most of the northern third of our county. I’ve been keeping an eye on the work all over as I drive around, and there’s been a lot of work.
The project has been funded, for the most part, by federal stimulus money. And that is how it has to be. Given the high cost of laying fiber optic (roughly $10 per foot in normal areas, up to $100 per foot in tougher areas like the rock shelves that abound in our area of the county), there is no way that this project could have been privately financed in a sensible way.
Without the stimulus money, our area would have remained a backwater, yet another part of “have not” rural America, condemned to stagnation. With the stimulus money, we now have the infrastructure we need for economic development in the age of connectivity.
Our small area of Wisconsin isn’t unique. Michael and I took a day trip a few weeks ago — a day off from campaigning for me — and did a hundred and a half mile loop to the north and west, looking at the fall colors. Amidst the red, yellow and orange of the foliage, bright orange tubes, the marker of fiber optic installation, were sticking up all over the place.
Rural broadband is an infrastructure development, like rural electrification in the 1930’s, that requires a public/private partnership for success.
The “kill government” types don’t get it. Not at all. But then, shit, most of them don’t believe in keeping up public roads, either.