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article imageQ&A: Better education starts with better Internet Special

By Tim Sandle     Dec 15, 2019 in Internet
There is a direct correlation between children underperforming in school and their access to reliable broadband Internet, explains Alan DiCicco, Solutions Marketing Senior Director at Calix.
According to a report by the National League of Cities (NLC), rural communities have 37 percent more residents without access to high-speed Internet connections when compared with their peers in urban areas.
This impacts more than residents’ ability to shop online, stream video or cruise the Internet. There is also an impact on education. The NLC report found that in the 21 states that are underperforming on education standards, 76 percent reported the digital divide as significantly disadvantageous for rural areas.
There are vastly different opportunities available to people based on where they live. In order for children in rural areas to have access to the latest and greatest opportunities to complete homework outside of school, complete college applications, and so on, they need wide access to reliable broadband.
To discuss these issues, Digital Journal caught up with Alan DiCicco, Solutions Marketing Senior Director at Calix.
Digital Journal: What is the state of broadband access in the U.S.?
Alan DiCicco: In many ways, Broadband access in the U.S. has never been better. A slow but steady growth in high speed broadband brought about by incremental advances in DSL technology and early adopters of Fiber to the Home (FTTH) in the first decade of the century was accelerated when Google Fiber announced its intent to deliver 1-Gig services to the Kansas City area. It took some time, but that action can be credited for spurring the cable and telco operators to respond with their own 1-Gig services.
Yet as we reach the end of the decade, the FCC reports that more than 21 million Americans still lack access to critical broadband services defined as speeds of at least 25Mbps down and 3 Mbps up; speeds that pale in comparison to the average US fixed broadband download speed of 130 Mbps (Ookla Speedtest Global Index). Most rural areas are affected by this problem, but the issue is more pronounced in the central and mountain states where subscriber density is extremely low.
DJ: Why are some areas poorly served?
DiCicco: As a rule, broadband speeds go down in lockstep with population density. The cost to deploy fiber – the fundamental enabler of high-speed broadband – in rural areas is typically less per linear foot than in an urban area, but the low-density population means vastly more fiber is needed to reach a relatively small number of subscribers. The economics of 5 subscribers per square mile are much different than for 2000 subscribers per square mile. Rural fiber broadband networks are challenging for large incumbent service providers because the network architectures optimized for urban areas are too costly for rural builds; the ROI does not meet aggressive investor-owned company expectations.
DJ: What are the societal impacts of no broadband access?
DiCicco: Reliable Internet plays a pivotal role in how we communicate, educate and stay healthy. By not addressing the millions of unserved and underserved households, we are creating a digital divide that has true physical impacts to the productivity and vibrancy of rural communities. Over time, businesses, academia and government entities will follow in the footsteps of video distribution and stop providing physical forms of information, leaving behind Americans without access to reliable high-speed broadband.
DJ: How does poor broadband access impact on educational attainment?
DiCicco: This US digital divide directly impacts the education of young Americans. Online education is likely the most quantifiable advantage of broadband access. Improved methods in the way educational materials – online video, interactive testing, adaptive course material and virtual field trips – are delivered, all require reliable internet. Without a plan for dependable broadband to all, efforts to increase college degrees and spur economic development will be seriously hindered. Broadband access is essential to staying relevant in the future of education.
DJ: What is the purpose of Calix?
DiCicco: Calix begins each day with the goal to make service providers successful as they deliver a superior broadband experience—both to the home and within the home. The Calix corporate mission is connecting everyone and everything, enabling communications service providers to elevate every aspect of their businesses—revenue, brand, and services. Although we are strong advocates for fiber to the home (FTTH) networks for their clear long-term advantages in performance and cost, we also promote the use of hybrid fiber/wireless solutions to close the physical or economic gap when FTTH is not possible.
DJ: How is Calix working with broadband providers?
DiCicco: Calix partners with local broadband providers of all kinds - traditional “telephone companies”, cable TV network operators, municipalities, electric cooperatives, Wireless ISPs - around the world. We’ve been working with rural service providers for nearly two decades and together we’ve learned to be creative, determined, and to take the long view. Local not-for-profit entities like municipalities and electric cooperatives often have existing infrastructure they can leverage to reduce costs, and they have longer return on investment horizons, which allows them to invest in fiber projects for the long-term viability and economic development benefits of the community.
We also team with consulting engineering firms to work with new small operators to design and build the networks using a combination of fiber and fixed wireless technologies. With our track record of success helping new service providers build high performance broadband networks, we are often referred to new operators by their peers. In addition, we reach out to potential new service providers by sponsoring events organized by state telecom associations, electric utilities, municipalities, and government agencies.
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