The COVID-19 forced homeschooling/distance learning has shown how much we need everyone to have good internet access. We need to take inspiration for how we brought affordable electricity and telephones to the rural poor and do the same for internet.
The 1996 law created the Universal Service Fund (USF) to collect a tax on long distance telephone companies to pay for subsidies to rural subscribers.
In 1949, the law was amended to allow similar financing for telephone companies serving rural areas.
There were also provisions added in 2008 and 2014 to try to support internet access in rural areas.
To mitigate this, many students that were issued laptop computers by their school districts have had to find ways to make use of the WiFi access in school cafeterias or McDonald's restaurant parking lots. But while this can work in cities, where a student could potentially walk to the school campus and sit socially distanced in the cafeteria with their computer and earbuds, it is a non-starter in the Midwest farmland, where the school is often 10-15 miles away, and young children have no way to get there.
We need a way to overcome this "digital divide".
In urban and suburban areas, this can be provided by ADSL circuits, but in rural areas, it will have to be substantially fiber-based or wireless. While satellite based access seems like a natural fit for this, the current state of that business (relying on geosynchronous relay satellites) has long latency limiting effective throughput, and also does not provide enough bandwidth to provide broadband service for large populations. (This may change with some of the low-orbit systems currently under construction.)
The for-profit telecommunications companies have not been good at building affordable access networks. When the Federal government has enacted subsidies to assist with the build-out of these services, the companies have been very good at collecting the subsidies, but have often fallen short of delivering the promised services. It seems to me that it would be better to ask county governments to build and operate these networks. Indeed, where cities have established such municipal fiber networks, they have been very successful.
I propose that we
My gut feeling is that the Basic Broadband Service could be delivered at a cost of $60/month. Most households would add a television service such as HULU or Apple TV+ which replaces old fashioned Cable TV or satellite video subscription services. Because these video programming services would be in direct competition without a monopoly in each geographical area, they would likely be much less expensive than current cable TV.
Low-income families with school children would be eligible to discounted or free services to support their educational needs.
While the FCC has declared basic service to be 25/3, I think 10/2 is an acceptable compromise for a minimum service; it seems a reasonable way to create a "cheap" low tier for subsidized users, even if there is little difference in actual cost of provision.
For rural deployments, I envision stringing a cable along roadside "telephone posts", containing
At each subscriber branch off point, a multiplexer/MAC switch. The above fiber cable would be pre-fabricated in lengths to fit between branch points. The "drop line" could be fiber or ADSL; for the lowest service tier, ADSL would certainly be adequate.
This would be very similar to the common FTTN (Fiber To The Node) system used for cable TV/Internet in suburban areas.
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