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Some Rural Communities Have Less Broadband Access Than Previously Thought

Federal officials are seeking grant applications to finance broadband in rural areas (including schools), and a new federal report shows some rural residents have even less broadband access than previously understood.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture rural development program plans to award up to $21 million in its Community Connect Grant program, which serves rural communities where broadband service is not available. The department last year helped improve broadband service nationwide for nearly 65,000 sites, including rural schools. The deadline to apply is July 11.

Meanwhile, the second report in a Broadband Briefs series by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the Economics and Statistics Administration found only looking at broadband from a rural vs. urban divide inaccurately represents the considerable variability within those kinds of communities.

The report shows more broadband availability is associated with population density. The Daily Yonder news site had a nice summary of the challenge in rural areas:

"The rural disadvantage grows bigger as you look at higher broadband access speeds. That's important, because the threshold for what constitutes adequate broadband speed continues to increase; businesses, community institutions (like schools, libraries, medical clinics), and families continue to need greater speeds as more information and services move online."

My EdWeek colleagues on the Digital Education blog are keeping tabs on the presidents' goal of giving 99 percent of the nation's schools access to high-speed broadband and wireless Internet access within five years.

That blog gives a good description of the federal E-rate program, as well as the proposed changes to it. The program was formed with the intention of helping schools and libraries, especially those in high-poverty and rural areas, with communication services.

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