The Future of Broadband Services
Access to information services via broadband networks is essential for improving the quality of life of Oregon residents and improving the Oregon economy. Past investments in broadband infrastructure by Oregon telecommunications service providers created a solid foundation for future progress. Rural Oregon is now better served than many rural areas of other western states.
Other states are catching up fast and plan to use government subsidies to leap ahead. Keeping Oregon’s competitive advantage will require significant entrepreneurial initiative, taking full advantage of new government subsidy opportunities and the creation of public-private partnerships to serve locations too distant or too sparsely populated to be attractive for private sector investors.
Some large telecommunications companies may understandably focus their investment on urban and higher-income markets where the profit margins are higher. They may underestimate the pent-up demand in currently underserved locations. This will create good investment opportunities for smaller, more entrepreneurial businesses that can leverage currently available government subsidies.
How much broadband capacity will be needed? The answer is much more than is now available or estimated. The current rate of information technology application development and adoption is accelerating. Users need 100 megabits per second of symmetrical internet access to take full advantage of current videoconferencing, telemedicine, remote work from home and group gaming applications.
New applications are likely to fill present capacity and create demand for ten times that much. Think of home access to IMAX quality video entertainment, holographic three-dimensional videoconferencing and virtual reality group gaming applications. Think of reliability, latency and security specifications sufficient to permit specialist urban surgeons to perform remote laparoscopic operations on patients in rural hospitals.
Other applications include smart agriculture, water supply and other natural resource management, intelligent transportation systems with autonomous vehicles, smart cities, energy management, distance education and public safety services. When expanded capacity is available, entrepreneurs will develop new applications that were not previously possible.
The Covid pandemic accelerated a transition from working in an urban office to working from home. With good telecommunications, more people may live and work in environmentally attractive and less expensive rural communities while still getting the benefits of urban entertainment, education and healthcare opportunities.
Broadband policy makers and entrepreneurs should not just think of providing advanced information services to all Oregonians in their homes. Consider the economic opportunities for information-intensive agriculture with sensors monitoring the moisture and fertilizer need of each patch of Oregon farmland.
Consider the potential forest management benefits of remote monitoring of forest temperatures and soil moisture in critical locations and of fully automated fire lookout stations. Most of that remote connectivity would be wireless but fiber optic lines will be needed to bring the data back to centralized office locations.
Providers of remote connectivity could benefit from the additional opportunity to provide mobile telephone service for forest workers, visitors, emergency service providers and for travelers on Oregon’s rural roads.
Now, there is a window of opportunity to expand telecommunications infrastructure throughout the entire state with sufficient capacity for future needs. Business entrepreneurs and rural communities should take full advantage of the current availability of massive government subsidies to future-proof the Oregon economy and rural quality of life. We may never get another opportunity like this.
By Ed Parker
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