Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

Connectivity

Locally Owned Internet Is an Antidote for the Digital Divide

Borrowing ideas and infrastructure from the early 20th century, rural America is finally getting the digital connections that it deserves.

Broadband coöperatives are cropping up throughout rural America, bringing high-speed Internet to places that would otherwise be without.

Telecom and cable companies don’t like delivering Internet infrastructure to the sticks. Sadly for residents of remote regions, the numbers simply don’t stack up: the cost of hardware and installation can’t be paid off by the small number users at the end of the cabling. Meanwhile, broadband in urban areas continues to improve, exacerbating what the Federal Communications Commission has referred to as a “persistent digital divide.”

It’s not a new story. Electric companies felt the same way about building out infrastructure in remote areas in the early 1900s. Back then, local coöperatives took the initiative and installed their own hardware, hanging electrical cables in order to supply small settlements and farms with a utility that changed lives.

Now, almost a century on, the same thing is happening with broadband. The New York Times reports that around 40 electric coöperatives are building out high-speed Internet infrastructure, while many towns are also leaning on old electricity laws to secure funding to do the same. Such arrangements obviously aren’t a new idea, but in 2010 only one existed across the whole of the U.S. to supply broadband. They tend to be be customer-owned, and in many cases the initiatives don’t just use the same idea as their electrical predecessors—they’re also hanging fiber-optic cable between the same poles that were installed decades ago.

Other are also working hard to close the digital divide. Facebook has been developing open-source cellular networks and robust laser data links to beam wireless data to remote areas; Google’s Project Loon plans to float Internet into remote regions using large stratospheric balloons. Such initiatives might go some way to closing the technological disparity between rich and poor. But for now, local community efforts may be the most effective way to put Internet into the hands of even the most remote communities.

(Read more: New York Times, “America’s Broadband Improves, Cementing a ‘Persistent Digital Divide,’” “Technology and Inequality”)

Want to go ad free? No ad blockers needed.

Become an Insider
Already an Insider? Log in.
More from Connectivity

What it means to be constantly connected with each other and vast sources of information.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Insider Plus.
  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus the digital magazine, extensive archive, ad-free web experience, and discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events.

    See details+

    Print + Digital Magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

    Technology Review PDF magazine archive, including articles, images, and covers dating back to 1899

    10% Discount to MIT Technology Review events and MIT Press

    Ad-free website experience

/3
You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.