Underserving Internet

Broadband access low in Rutherford County
Jul. 17, 2013 @ 05:18 AM

Adam Duncan relies on his home Internet.

But, that can be a problem for him.

And, he's not the only one.

Eleven percent of residents in Rutherford County that have no access to broadband Internet.

That's according to a recent study from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

"I live three miles away from the end of Northland Cable and they said it would cost too much to run it out my road," Duncan, who lives on Painters Gap Road in Union Mills, said.

The study indicated that approximately 7,400 residents have no access to high-speed broadband Internet via a wireline.

There are some who believe that estimate is high.

"If the pattern of our preliminary findings hold true, the FCC is underestimating the scope of the problem," said Wally Bowen, executive director of the Mountain Area Information Network (MAIN).

An additional study by MAIN showed that 48 percent of residents in western North Carolina have no broadband access via a cable or digital subscriber line (DSL). Only 15 percent of those responding to the MAIN survey said they had Internet access that meets the FCC minimum speeds of four megabits per second download and one Mbps upload.

"This data confirms our worst fears," Bowen said. "Reports of sub-par DSL, plus those reporting no access, comprise 85 percent of responses; that's a huge majority reporting inadequate broadband access."

Duncan knows how it feels to have underserving broadband. Especially as a PC Technician for Tanner Companies who is on-call for two weeks at a time.

"(My) DSL is slow and it always stops working almost every single day and even when I call them they say there is no problem even though I cannot connect to the Internet," Duncan said. "They have sent multiple techs out to try to fix the problem but fail to resolve the issue."

The MAIN study had a small study sample but Bowen said it was in line with data from the FCC.

He said the most common form of broadband was DSL from incumbent telephone companies. The MAIN report said no DSL user reported an upload speed that met the FCC minimum of 1 Mbps.

In western North Carolina, according to FCC data, Graham County had the worst penetration of broadband access with over 32 percent of the total population not having access. Jackson County had over 17 percent without access.

Buncombe County had the best availability of broadband access with 0.3 percent reporting not having access. Haywood and Henderson counties each had under 3 percent of its residents without broadband access.

Christopher Mitchell, a broadband advocate with the Institute of Local Self-Reliance, said communities not having adequate access to broadband service can have their economies hampered.

"Such a slow upload speed prevents people from being productive at home in a digital economy that values working remotely," Mitchell said in a press release. "Slow upload speeds make video-conferencing difficult if not impossible. That puts the rural entrepreneur at a competitive disadvantage."

Bowen suggested that Congress reform the Connect America Fund so its $4.5 billion per year is used to encourage local self-help broadband networks. He also said a provision similar to the 1936 Rural Electrification Act should be passed to help local communities build broadband networks. That legislation should include a provision that nullifies state laws from restricting municipal broadband networks.

Whatever might be done, Duncan believes something has to happen to increase broadband access in Rutherford County.

"I think that this county needs to upgrade their Internet infrastructure since we live in a world that relies on the Internet to stay connected to the outside world," Duncan said. "Some of us have to use it to work from home which is hard to do when the Internet won't stay connected."