HAYS, Kansas — With a family of five and a farming operation to run, Clay Scott’s home internet didn’t come close to cutting it.
Pulling up a weather page in a browser could take so long it produced an error message rather than a forecast. He tried installing a wireless security system, but it sucked up so much bandwidth that nothing else in the house would work. Once when his son needed to email a school project, the rest of the family had to log off just to give their connection enough capacity to send it.
“Today, we really expect it to be: Snap your fingers, here you go,” Scott said. “So it was definitely a challenge.”
Like many rural Americans, Scott’s home in southwest Kansas connected to the internet over an old copper wire. A better-than-nothing update on century-old telephone technology that struggles to handle Zoom calling, video streaming or a myriad of other internet uses that people in big cities largely take for granted.
Federal and state governments have poured billions into trying to bring more bandwidth to the remote corners of the country. But for many people in rural places, it hasn’t made any difference. An estimated 42 million Americans still don’t have high-speed internet, or what most people today simply think of as internet.
With fiber-optic cable installation costing tens of thousands of dollars per mile, it’s unlikely that big national providers will ever find a way to make money — or even avoid losses — by hooking up people like Scott in rural Kansas.
An Ideatek fixed wireless tower stands next to a road in Chase County. Towers like this send out a wireless signal that can connect farm equipment to the internet.
But a growing number of small towns, farms and ranches are finally joining the Digital Age with help from small, local companies that have more of a stake in the rural areas they call home. They’ve found ways to stretch state and federal subsidies to strategically install high-capacity wires to homes, or construct over-the-air relays, to bring more robust speeds to remote outposts, town-by-town, farmstead-by-farmstead.
Now, with $42 billion in new federal broadband funding about to go to state governments, those local companies say how much money they get could decide how many more rural Americans get connected.
Return on investment
A recent survey study from the University of Kansas found that 95 Kansas ZIP codes — representing nearly 90,000 people — don’t have internet speeds that meet the federal definition of broadband.
And it’s not only a challenge in …….