DOI Aims To Increase Internet Access Across Federal Lands For Rural America

Feb 13, 2019

Wi-Fi can be hard to find in the rural parts of our region. In fact, about six in ten rural Americans believe access to high-speed internet is a problem where they live. But that might change. Today the Department of Interior announced a new effort to increase access to broadband on federal lands.

Shirley Bloomfield is with the National Telecommunications Cooperative Association. She said broadband in a rural place can mean better access to things like telemedicine or online education. And while she is optimistic about Interior's new plans, she said it won't be that easy.

"Not going to be shy about it—it costs a lot of money," said Bloomfield. "The infrastructure is really expensive and you have a lot fewer customers that you're spreading the cost among."

Interior's plans include streamlining permitting for broadband providers. Bloomfield said the idea is to cut down the amount of red tape.

"We've got to find a better way to cross federal land, streamline processes, to make sure that if a broadband provider or somebody interested in providing this service wants to come in, they don't have to go to four federal agencies under four different processes to get permission to actually do some deployment," said Bloomfield.

She added that it's not clear if the plans will be incentivizing for providers, but "they will certainly make the process a lot easier and a lot quicker and that's a really important step forward."

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, Yellowstone Public Radio in Montana, KUER in Salt Lake City and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.
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