We are about to turn the corner into a new decade, a time that will be defined by remarkable advancements in data processing, intelligence, and digital transformation. Yet, while there’s a lot to get excited about looking forward, the fact remains that we’re being held back by the rural broadband gap.
Make no mistake about it: The rural broadband gap remains one of the biggest challenges for the telecommunications industry heading into 2020, as the digital divide is growing with each passing year.
Granted, we have made big strides in connectivity in recent years and this shouldn’t go overlooked. According to Pew Research, 63 percent of rural Americans now have a broadband internet connection at home, up from just 35 percent in 2007.
At the same time, though, rural Americans remain about 12 percentage points less likely than Americans as a whole to have home broadband. In 2007, this gap was hovering around 16 percent. Pew also discovered that rural residents spend less time online than residents in urban and suburban areas. Only about three-quarters of adults in rural communities use the internet on at least a daily basis compared to 86 percent of suburbanites and 83 percent of urbanites. What’s more, a whopping 15 percent of rural adults never go online, compared to just 6 percent of suburbanites and 9 percent of urbanites.
Altogether, the fact remains that about 20 million Americans lack access to high speed fixed broadband networks—a problem that must be solved in the coming years.
In order to truly close the rural broadband gap, it will take a concerted effort and close collaboration from all parties involved including carriers, technology providers, regulatory agencies, local policy makers, businesses, and consumers. No one organization alone will connect rural America. We need to collectively re-think how to bring broadband to underserved areas if we want to close the gap.
In this white paper, we’ll explore:
- What’s causing the rural broadband gap;
- How it’s harming local towns and communities;
- How software-defined wide area networking (SD-WAN) can help close the gap; and
- Multapplied’s approach to SD-WAN.
Let’s get started.
Why the Broadband Gap Still Exists
People often wonder why it is that despite all of our technological advancements, we still have such underserved rural areas.
First and foremost, there are certain logistical barriers that impede broadband development. In many areas, it’s impossible or extremely cost-prohibitive to deploy fiber. Large carriers typically avoid such areas, apart from sometimes forming regional partnerships with WISPs.
Logistical issues aside, though, some parts of the country simply have too few subscribers to justify a network expansion. What’s more, rural subscribers tend to be less connected, and data-hungry, than urban and suburbanites.
Pew, for instance, found that rural adults are less likely to have multiple devices or connected services. As a result, their monthly spend is typically less. According to Pew, 31 percent of rural adults own a desktop or laptop computer, a smartphone, a home broadband connection and a tablet. Forty-three percent of suburban adults own all four.
“It is important to understand the contours of the broadband availability gap,” explained Boston College Law School Professor Daniel A. Lyons in a statement before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. “What analysts often refer to as the “unserved” part of the country actually reflects two distinct territories. In some unserved areas, network installation costs make market entry uneconomical, but if those one-time construction costs could be covered, the network could cover its monthly operating expenses. But in the hardest-to-reach areas, even providing a network for free would be insufficient, as there are insufficient consumers to support the company’s costs.”
In order to narrow the broadband availability gap, Lyons continues, the government should prioritize territories where a one-time investment would create sustainable network growth. In other words, government subsidies should focus on upfront network construction in lieu of carrier subsidies.
This begs the question: Why is the broadband gap a problem?
Why We Need to Close the Gap
Multapplied VP of Sales Logan Campbell offered some commentary on why it’s crucial to close the broadband gap.
“On one hand, there are businesses and consumers who are ultra-connected and digitally empowered living and working in metropolitan regions,” Campbell said. “On the other hand, there are roughly 20 million people living in ‘bandwidth deserts’ that lack the high-speed connectivity that’s required to keep up. It’s almost as if there are two different realities co-existing in America, and the latter group is seriously disadvantaged.”
The broadband gap is causing harm on at least three different fronts:
Businesses: Companies located in underserved areas are struggling to keep up with competitors located in well-connected areas—especially in ultra-competitive industries like finance and technology, which require fast, reliable, and affordable connectivity to support bandwidth-intensive deployments. Connectivity is now a top consideration for companies when entering into a new market.
What’s interesting, too, is that counties with the highest unemployment rate tend to have lower broadband usage according to Microsoft.
“It’s time to recognize that inequal access to broadband translates into inequality of opportunity,” explains Shelley McKinley, who is head of technology and corporate responsibility at Microsoft. “People in rural areas that lack broadband face higher unemployment rates, see fewer job and economic opportunities and place children from these communities behind their suburban and peers in school. Of course, this is not just a rural issue – broadband deserts exist within very urban areas as well, where costs can be unaffordable and availability non-existent.”
Schools: It’s not just businesses that are falling behind. Students are suffering, too.
One example can be seen in a small town in northeast Iowa, where students sometimes have to stay late at school or visit local businesses to use laptops because they lack broadband access at home. Students need connectivity to do homework, take online classes, and study.
Towns and communities: Ultimately, entire communities can suffer from a lack of bandwidth, as it can impact local government agencies, law enforcement, libraries, utilities, and so on.
Making matters worse, poor connectivity can cause people to move away from a town or avoid coming to a particular region altogether. If someone goes to buy a house, for instance, and they can’t establish connectivity within several miles, they’re more likely to think less of that area.
At this point, we’ve outlined some of the top challenges that are causing the broadband gap, and explained how it’s harming businesses, consumers, and entire communities.
So, how can we close this gap?
As we explained, there’s no single “fix-all” solution to get rural America up to speed with the rest of the country. However, there are some things that can help improve connectivity in certain areas. One such technology is software-defined wide area networking (SD-WAN).
In the next section, we’ll explore how SD-WAN can help businesses, and carriers alike.
SD-WAN for Improving Rural Connectivity
Let’s face it: As a service provider, there’s little that you can do to solve the larger rural broadband crisis. As we mentioned, that’s going to take widespread collaboration, and more time. But that doesn’t mean you have to sit on the sideline.
There is a lucrative opportunity at hand to help businesses with locations in rural areas to improve their connectivity. In fact, if you play your cards right, this can turn into a massive sales opportunity.
This can be accomplished by leveraging SD-WAN, a technology that involves decoupling the control plane from the networking plane and in doing so, establishing flexible, and dynamic, secure, and reliable virtual networks for your customers.
How SD-WAN Can Help Rural Businesses
Over the years, enterprise WANs have evolved significantly. However, WAN bandwidth remains very expensive in many rural markets. It can also be highly resource-intensive to service rural WANs, and to maintain uptime and availability.
At the same time, many businesses are hesitant to open branch locations in rural areas with poor coverage, out of fear that they will have a hard time establishing cost-effective and reliable connectivity. As a result, companies often pass up on expansion opportunities, choosing instead to stick closer to well-served markets.
Service providers can help provide an alterative to traditional WAN deployments, by offering a solution that combines multiple connections, from multiple carriers, across multiple geographies—providing aggregated, and highly secure bandwidth.
It’s important to keep in mind, though, that there are many SD-WAN vendors on the market, and most tend to offer solutions that benefit the vendor instead of the service provider, by restricting how the SD-WAN service can be priced, marketed, sold, and deployed.
Multapplied’s Approach to SD-WAN
Multapplied offers a pure white label SD-WAN solution that gives service providers complete control over all aspects of their service. The service provider can control everything from the type of infrastructure they want to use, all the way down to markup.
Here are some ways that Multapplied’s white label SD-WAN can help rural customers:
Bandwidth aggregation: By offering Multapplied, service providers can combine multiple internet connections into a single line. As a result, this makes it possible to offer fiber speeds, even in areas where fiber cables can’t be deployed. Multapplied accomplishes this by integrating aggregators into the dynamic routing configuration of the network, thus making it possible to route traffic between the core network and on-premises equipment.
End-to-End QoS: Customers today don’t care where a company is located. They expect that company to remain up and running at a high level, all the time. Customers, in other words, don’t want to experience issues like call quality issues or dropped VoIP calls. Multapplied can protect against this by offering Quality of Service (QoS), ensuring that network packets arrive on-time and in sequence, every time—even in areas with slow or poor connectivity.
Carrier redundancy: Many businesses operate in rural areas that experience extreme weather like heavy snow, wind and rain. Internet outages are common in these areas, resulting in prolonged and expensive instances of downtime. By combining multiple links from multiple carriers, Multapplied can help businesses diversify their connectivity and establish link failover.
Digital transformation: Digital transformation is one of the hottest buzzwords in business heading into 2020, with most companies now looking for ways to modernize their networks. Not all companies can achieve digital transformation, though, because they lack the connectivity to support digital deployments like IoT devices and apps. Service providers can help by offering lightning-fast connectivity, enabling businesses to fully embrace digital transformation, regardless of their location.
What Are You Doing to Close the Broadband Gap?
The broadband gap could take years to close. There’s no telling when the gap will shrink, and connectivity will improve on a massive scale.
As a service provider, though, you don’t have to wait for that day to start driving profits from rural America. Multapplied SD-WAN is your ticket to start driving profits today—at the same time, providing communities with the connectivity they desperately need.
To get started, contact Multapplied today.