Monday Roundup: Aussie Rural Broadband

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The Australian parliament Monday endorsed a $37 billion plan to outfit the country in a fiber optic national broadband network

Conservatives in the national legislature wanted a cheaper, and much slower, network that would use a number of technologies, including wireless and DSL. But the more expensive plan “won the support of rural-based independent legislators who argued that the network will overcome some of the disadvantages of living in remote locations,” according to the AP.

The network will deliver broadband at speeds of 100 megabits per second to 90 percent of Australian homes, schools and businesses through fiber-optic cables. Those speeds are 100 times faster than what most Australians have currently.

Australian Federal Arts Minister Simon Crean says the country’s National Broadband Network will “transform arts in regional Australia and Australia as a whole.” Crean was talking to a regional arts forum.

“It’s extraordinary to see a commitment to broadband and the potential of connectivity, that really looks to include marginalised communities,” said Dee Davis, president of the Centre for Rural Strategies in Kentucky, publisher of the Daily Yonder. “To create a creative nation there are going to be challenges, if you succeed here it’s an opportunity for us to begin to re-imagine what we can do.” 

• “If it weren’t for the Hispanic people, I couldn’t farm, couldn’t do nothing,’’ said Blan Bottomley, 64, who has a tree farm and fields of pumpkins, cabbage and sweet corn near Sparta, North Carolina. Bloomberg’s Chris Burritt writes that the increase in the Hispanic population has been essential to rural economies. 

• The Washington Post writes about a failed developer who is starting a “food club” that will supply urbanites in D.C. with food from the countryside. Instead of buying a subscription for regular deliveries, people joining the club are purchasing a right to buy produce and meats grown by a consortium of Virginia farmers. 

• The Washington Post reminds us that fear of nuclear power spawned by the disaster in Japan shouldn’t divert attention from the environmental costs of coal. The editorial is headlined, “Stop the coal resurgence in its tracks.” 

The Post makes no mention of safety and health issues among coal miners. 

• Coal companies are doing okay without any help. Morningstar reports that coal companies are expecting record profits in 2011.

• Farm Futures Magazine’s survey of farmers finds that not enough corn was planted this year to rebuild diminished domestic stockpiles. The USDA will release its official count later this week. 

• The New Orleans paper claims gas wells in the northern part of Louisiana are making the Haynesville shale formation the most productive in the nation. There are now over 1,060 wells working in the region “causing a boom in the mostly rural and poor sections of the state’s northwestern quadrant and helping to ease the effects of a national recession on state coffers,” according to reporter Mark Schleifsein. 

As is true in the many other shale gas formations (Marcellus in New York and Pennsylvania, Barnett in Texas), the use of hydraulic fracturing to force out the gas has some worried about groundwater contamination. But the paper reports that “the drilling boom in Louisiana is occurring with little of the controversy over potential environmental problems that fracking is spawning in communities in Pennsylvania, New York and West Virginia….”

• The Maryland legislature is debating the environmental effects of shale gas drilling. The state House voted last week to put a moratorium on drilling until the Maryland Department of the Environment completes a study on the practice. 

“We’re not going to be like other states that drilled first and asked questions later,” said Maryland Del. Heather R. Mizeur (D-Montgomery), who drafted and sponsored the legislation. “We understand that second chances are expensive, so we should slow down and take the time to do this right the first time.” 

Marfa, Texas, is so hip it has a fake Prada store. It’s an art installation of sorts, with fake Italian shoes in the window and some expensive purses. Now the little cube of a building is being spattered with paint from another kind of “artist,” one of the graffiti variety. 

The Berlin-based artists who built the fake Prada store in far West Texas are “disappointed.” 

• Sometimes a contract isn’t good enough. Several Kentucky tobacco farmers have filed a class action suit against the world’s largest tobacco merchant, Universal Corporation, saying the company refused to honor contracts to purchase burley at the end of the 2010 crop year, the Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader reports. 

The company contracted to buy tobacco, the farmers say, but when they brought their crop to the company, Universal said there was no market for the leaf and refused to buy it. The farmers were able to sell their crop at auction, but for considerably less than the contract price.

“I worked all year and lost money,” one farmer, Tom Leach, said. “Now you step back and you have farm payments and other commitments. What do you do?”

• Speaking of the Yonder, the Columbia Journalism Review wrote about us. 

• Walmart, the nation’s largest retailer, doesn’t have a store in New York City. The company from northwest Arkansas is trying to change that with some big city tactics. 

 

 

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