Rural America’s Future is Riding on a Cell Signal

[Note:  This item comes from friend Randy Burge.  DLH]

Rural America’s Future is Riding on a Cell Signal
By Matt Dunne
Jun 28 2017

Until recently, if you happened to have a medical emergency while driving through Townshend, Vermont, a hamlet of just more than 1,000 people in the southern, rural area of the state, it would do no good to pull out your iPhone. You would have no signal. “The irony was not lost on us that someone next door to the hospital couldn’t dial 911 on their cell phone,” says Roger Allbee, CEO of the local hospital, Grace Cottage.

It’s the kind of problem that Vanu Bose, the founder of the small cell network provider CoverageCo, has been trying to solve with a new, ultra-energy-efficient mobile technology. Bose chose two places to pilot this tech: Vermont and Rwanda. “We picked these two locations because we knew they would be challenging in terrain and population density,” he says. “What we didn’t expect was that many of the problems were the same in Rwanda and Vermont—and in fact the rollout has been much easier in Africa.”

I live with my family on the small farmstead where I was raised in rural Vermont. I went off to college and then returned. I got elected at 22 to the state legislature, helped grow a local software company that served commercial printers worldwide, and spent nearly a decade working for Google from an old bread factory building in White River Junction, just 10 minutes’ drive from where we raise sheep, chickens, and blueberries. Lately, we’ve been restoring 200-year-old barns to house our livestock and tractor. We never miss the Tunbridge World’s Fair, where five-year-olds expertly handle cattle and grandmothers hope their jams and jellies will win blue ribbons. My kids know how to move sheep from one pasture to another and bottle feed baby lambs, and my 12-year-old is already better with the bucket loader than I am.

I’m proof that a rural lifestyle doesn’t have to have to exist in opposition to the tech boom that is reshaping vast regions of our country. But for people in rural areas to benefit from the opportunities of the tech revolution, places like Vermont need to be better connected.

For most of my career, I’ve focused on rural economic development. The issues of basic infrastructure—the things many take for granted, such as internet service, public transportation of any kind, and cell phone coverage—have always been a challenge in small-town America, where there are fewer people, those people are more spread out, and there’s a lot less money.

Historically, public-private partnerships have been critical to ensuring economic success in rural areas. In the late 19th century, the government piloted a program called Rural Free Delivery, which delivered mail to farmers and others who lived outside cities. Before RFD, people had to travel a day or longer to pick up their mail, or pay a private service to deliver it. The Rural Electrification Act, which provided federal loans to companies to power rural areas, and the Eisenhower Interstate System, which financed early construction of the highways, were similarly critical to providing connectivity that allowed economic vitality across a vast majority of the land mass of the country. The broadband initiatives of the Obama Administration, although relatively smaller in scale, hoped to achieve the same result.



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