The Internet Impact on Rural Americans … Much More Than Just ‘Surfin the Web’

Unless you’ve been hanging out with Rip van Winkle, you can’t help but be impressed by the explosive growth and popularity of the Internet. More than just another passing fancy, the Internet is revolutionizing telecommunications. And Lackawaxen, like other local companies, has already had to react to the profound changes in the way people use their telephones and the enormous pressure the Internet has placed on the design and performance of our network.

Now, the Internet’s reach looms even larger — to the point where the technology that lets you send e-mails anywhere and surf the World Wide Web will soon include voice communication, with no drop in the quality afforded by the conventional system. For our customers, and everyone in America’s rural towns and communities, the expansion of "Internet protocol" and "broadband" technology presents real challenges. Why? Because high-speed access and other feature-rich broadband services are essential if the businesses in our communities hope to remain viable. Without comparable connection to "Voice over the Internet" and other broadband transmission technologies, companies like ours that provide service in rural, high-cost areas will not be able to ensure that our customers can travel the information superhighway.

The Transformation of the Network

By transforming how services are delivered, the Internet is radically altering America’s telecom network. With traditional "circuit switching," the network has been connection-oriented, establishing a sort of "private" highway between you and the person you call, over which no other calls can travel. However, Internet protocol has much more capacity. With "packet switching," information — voice, data, video — is broken into packets that are sent scurrying across a transmission turnpike jammed with other packets. Because this technology is so advanced, it can match the packets with their intended destinations more efficiently and much less expensively. Internet technology has the potential to erase the boundaries between your telephone, PC, and television — and eventually may characterize the entire network.

While this advancement in technology holds out much promise, the evolution of Internet-based telecommunications, like the spread of the national interstate highway system, has the potential to isolate rural communities. Not because Lackawaxen and other independent companies can’t handle the technology. We’ve always been on the cutting edge of telecommunications, with such advancements as digital transmission, fiber optics, local dial-up access to the Internet, and Predator high-speed DSL. In fact, we’ve made these technologies — and, more importantly, the services they make possible — available to you at a pace equal to, if not faster than, many of the larger companies. No, the threat confronting rural customers and communities arises from the significant costs it takes to convert the network and from the fact that legislators and regulators don’t always recognize the difficulties such costs create for rural companies.

The costs to upgrade our network for this Internet technology compound the threats that competition is causing for rural safeguards, such as universal service, designed to ensure similar services at similar costs for all Americans. We need the continued support of Congress, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and Pennsylvania legislators and regulators for policies that recognize the challenges of serving high-cost areas and that promote the deployment of Information Age services to rural Americans. If universal service and similar programs are sacrificed to promote competition in large, urban markets, rural America may be less than an equal partner in the national, Internet-based network. We must convince Congress, the FCC, and our state officials to keep rural communities in mind as technology advances.

Keeping Rural America High-Tech

That’s where you come in. Remember, you have a voice in policy development, through your constituent relationships with our elected officials in Washington and in Harrisburg. It’s critical that policymakers hear from you, the rural citizens who are the beneficiaries of programs and policies intended to promote the equitable availability of advanced telecommunications services to urban and rural citizens alike. If rural communities are neglected in the deployment of Internet and other broadband technologies, we face the prospect of an unbridgeable gap between information "haves" in urban areas and "have-nots" in small towns and rural communities. Your voice can help ensure that we all travel down the Internet highway together.