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Rural Broadband Jobs

Emerging media stimulus could create 200,000 jobs in three months

Other Topics: LTE Testing, Taiwan WiMAX Center, Rural Broadband Jobs

Ball State University
January 14, 2009

Muncie, IN -- Ball State University has developed an emerging media stimulus proposal for President-elect Barack Obama's American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan (ARRP) that could yield a potential 200,000 jobs nationwide as early as March.

The initiative, developed by the university's Digital Policy Institute (DPI), would bring next-generation broadband service to rural and traditionally underserved areas of the country and immediately create jobs — the only such economic stimulus plan being proposed to Congress that accomplishes both, says Robert Yadon, DPI's senior research fellow.
Endorsed by the Organization for the Promotion and Advancement of Small Telecommunications Companies (OPASTCO), the initiative — "Deploying Next-Generation Broadband Service to Rural America" — provides the blueprint for rural telephone companies to extend advanced broadband services beyond cities such as Baltimore and Portland, Ore., where successful efforts resulted in the immediate creation of new jobs, increased production for computer and PDA manufacturers and billions of dollars of investment in infrastructure.

If adopted, Yadon says, demand for new fiber optics and equipment will jump immediately, boosting manufacturing. Construction jobs will increase to begin building out the new fiber networks, while more computer engineering professionals will be needed to launch and maintain the system. Consumer electronics companies also will have to ramp up production of devices enabled for emerging WiMAX technologies and opportunities to develop and manage new digital content will grow. And that's just for starters.

Speed and range
"The economic plan proposed by President-elect Barack Obama focuses on investment and transparent dissemination of funds, and we believe our Rural Broadband Initiative accomplishes each of those objectives," explains Yadon. "Our $28 billion plan could effectively and immediately help bail out our struggling economy as well as cement Ball State and Indiana's reputation as leaders in emerging media."

Ball State has already demonstrated its leadership in the field of emerging media when the university unveiled its $17.7 million Emerging Media Initiative (EMI) in December 2008. The initiative will build on Ball State's historic strengths and will invest institutional and new private resources during the next five years toward making emerging media a pillar industry of the Hoosier economy.

Establishing part of the groundwork for Ball State's EMI was the university being among the first entities in the United States to begin testing Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access (WiMAX) in 2006. The technology provides broadband speed without cables. At the same time it improves signal strength and expands the range telecommunications providers can reach from a single transmission and reception point, improving cost efficiency.

The Rural Broadband Initiative adds to the university's continued development and dispersal to rural and underserved areas of the country to what could be the next big thing in wireless computer operability.

On behalf of the small local and rural telecommunications companies in North America that it represents, OPASTCO is advancing the initiative on Capitol Hill. In a letter to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, OPASTCO President John Rose urged Congress to approve the investment in rural broadband infrastructure.

"OPASTCO believes the plan articulated by DPI presents a 'shovel ready' approach to job creation and infrastructure development," he said.

Most U.S. rural carriers have a first generation, low-speed broadband network throughout much of their service areas. And while many of these networks are capable of delivering true high-speed broadband service, there remain an estimated 5.9 million rural access lines that are unable to connect to advanced broadband telecommunications that offer a wider spectrum of services to more urban and suburban residents. Those options range from online distance education courses to advances in health care coverage afforded by telemedicine.

Finding the funds
In order to provide a next-generation broadband network, rural carriers must have reasonable broadband access to the Internet and deploy fiber optics more broadly within their customer service areas, says Yadon.

"With federal grants covering the costs of fiber build-out, rural telecommunications providers will have the incentive and ability to turn their efforts toward developing those currently underserved markets, and they will expend significant effort in educating and motivating their new broadband-ready customers to the benefits of next-generation broadband services," he said.

Yadon and economist colleague Michael Hicks, director of Ball State's Center for Business and Economic Research (CBER), have even identified a mechanism for the quick distribution of funds: the ubiquitous Universal Service Fund. According to Hicks, using the same system that helps offset telephone bills to consumers in high cost areas could put the project into motion much quicker than any other proposal being considered.

"Actually, I'd call our proposal 'pre-shovel ready' because the funds will go directly to the rural telephone companies, allowing them to put the plan to work and receiving federal funding as soon as it is approved," Hicks added. "Other plans would have to get filtered through government agencies and would take months to roll out, and that's not what our country needs right now."

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