FairPoint Communications Inc. accepted over 37.4 million in annual funding from Connect America to expand Internet connections to rural customers. Although it is not true broadband Internet under the new definition, it still significantly expands the potential of these rural areas by giving them Internet access at reasonable speeds.
In rural America, Internet access continues to be a scarce resource. The population density is rather low relative to the rest of the nation, so Internet service providers (ISPs) have been hesitant to expand their services to these areas. The relatively small customer base and the cost of maintaining the network infrastructure make rural areas less lucrative for ISPs. This is similar to the expansion of telephone service to these areas, which remained relatively small until government support for maintaining the networks was provided.
As a result of these problems, many people living in rural America do not have access to the Internet, and even with programs like the Connect America Fund, ISPs have been slow to expand into these areas. The $37,430,669 accepted by FairPoint allows the company to improve this situation by providing Internet service at speeds of at least 10 Mbps down and 1 Mbps up to 105,000 homes and businesses across 14 states.
"FairPoint's decision to accept support from the Connect America Fund will greatly benefit its rural customers by expanding robust broadband in their communities," said FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. "The Connect America Fund is delivering on its promise of ensuring that all Americans have access to the opportunities provided by modern broadband service, no matter where they live."
Although this fits the old definition of broadband, and by today's standards it isn't considered a fast Internet connection, the initiative still looks to be a boon to people living in these areas. Many people who do live in more densely populated areas receive Internet service at similar speeds and manage to use it for education, business and entertainment just fine. For these users, having faster Internet certainly would be nice, but at least this helps to bring some people living in rural America up to a similar level of Internet access that the rest of the U.S. enjoys.
This is only the first step in growing Internet access in the United States. Over the next six years, Connect America will move to phase two of its plans, providing over $10 billion to companies in order to expand broadband-capable networks everywhere in the U.S. where there are currently none.
It is great to see that Internet access is being improved in the United States, but it is a little surprising to see that the FCC signed off on the deal when it doesn't really provide broadband Internet service. Most Americans already have Internet, and for those who do have it, faster and more affordable Internet is a greater concern. Having the FCC chairman refer to an Internet service slower than broadband as "broadband" gives the impression that he feels this is sufficient service for companies to provide. Of course, increasing Internet access to more users is a good thing, but improving the performance and cost of Internet nation-wide would have a greater impact on the lives of people in the U.S.
It could be that this was the only way for FCC and FairPoint to come to an agreement, but hopefully it isn't a sign that Wheeler is turning his attention away from improving the performance and affordability of our nations' Internet to focus on basic Internet coverage instead.