Driven by the challenging business model facing service providers, the rural digital divide remains a major challenge across much of the United States. For many Americans, advanced communication networks and digital connectivity have provided unlimited opportunity when it comes to engaging with technology and data. This point is made even more apparent during COVID-19, which is driving entire communities to learn, work and play online.
However, the Federal Communications Commission estimates that 22.3 percent of rural Americans do not have access to fixed high-speed broadband. And even rural communities with connectivity experience far slower broadband speeds than nonrural areas.
“Reliable high-speed broadband is one of the greatest influencers on a community’s quality of life,” said Fred Ellermeier, vice president of Black & Veatch’s telecommunications business. “High-speed fiber networks can offer rural communities a lifeline and pathway to healthcare, education and economic opportunity.”
Fiber networks continue to proliferate across the U.S. – the number of connected homes grew 17 percent in 2019 – but fiber deployment in rural America has moved slowly. This is due to the challenging business model: rural areas have a low-density population spread across wide geographies, requiring significantly more fiber miles to connect communities. With fewer resident subscriptions to pay for service, the return-on-investment (ROI) period lengthens – or worse, cannot be realized. These scenarios are often non-starters for networks investors.
Rural electric cooperatives (co-ops) have stepped in to address this need, having deployed thousands of fiber miles in rural districts – enough to account for 30 percent of all rural fiber service. Co-ops may be the linchpin of closing the digital divide because they can deploy fiber successfully despite the difficult business model. Black & Veatch’s latest free eBook, Rural Broadband: 8 Actions to Ensure Fiber Deployment Success, outlines eight actions that co-ops can take to remove hurdles, accelerate schedules, garner public interest and acceptance, and minimize costs of fiber deployment.
Advanced communication networks are multi-faceted, capital-intensive infrastructure deployments that require careful coordination and have long lead times for engineering, permitting and construction. The eight actions outlined in the eBook ensure that individual networks meet current and future capacity and make the best use of existing assets and obtained funding/financing.
“Rural communities will continue to struggle until investment is made in fiber broadband networks and the rural digital divide is fully addressed. Without adequate broadband internet, rural areas will remain at an economic and social disadvantage. Insightful network planning will be key to resolving this issue and making digital connectivity available to all,” added Ellermeier.
- Download Black & Veatch’s latest free eBook, Rural Broadband: 8 Actions to Ensure Fiber Deployment Success.
- View Black & Veatch’s complete series of eBooks, which examine electric vehicles, electric fleets, digitally connected communities, digital electricity, autonomous vehicles and 5G networks.
- Black & Veatch is a market leader in converged, intelligent communication networks, with expertise in connected communities, grid modernization, next-generation agriculture, connected transportation and emerging technologies.
About Black & Veatch
Black & Veatch is an employee-owned, global leader in building critical human infrastructure in Energy, Water, Telecommunications and Government Services. Since 1915, we have helped our clients improve the lives of people in over 100 countries through consulting, engineering, construction, operations and program management. Our revenues in 2019 were US$3.7 billion. Follow us on www.bv.com and in social media.