Rural Americans long to be linked

USA Today
June 8, 2009

By Leslie Cauley

PLAINS, Texas — The people who live here are still waiting for the digital revolution to arrive.

The local phone company, Windstream, offers high-speed DSL service in part of Plains (population: around 1,450). But those who live outside the city limits, including farmers such as Jeff Roper, don’t have a lot of choice.

Roper currently uses ERF Wireless, which provides service in more remote areas. He says the service, which costs $40 a month for a 1.5-megabit connection, is pretty good, though it sometimes goes down for days at a time.

To help run his 2,400-acre farm, he spent $65,000 on equipment for a satellite-based GPS service for his tractors, useful for navigation in the field. Broadband, handy for a variety of diagnostic and operational purposes such as irrigation and real-time weather monitoring, isn’t available — so Roper and other farmers in this West Texas community do without.

Rural folks aren’t prone to complain, Roper says. They work hard, love their communities and wouldn’t think of living anywhere else. But that doesn’t mean they don’t want, and need, to be connected to the outside world.

“Just because we live in rural America doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have broadband,” says Roper, a third-generation peanut farmer. “We’re all Americans. We shouldn’t be treated less than anyone else.”

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