Roundup: Light Up the Night

Lighting up rural Africa • Online voting in rural areas • No Internet problems in rural MN? • Colorado House approves broadband and phone-deregulation bill • A bill to ban food labeling • What's after coal?

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In parts of rural India and
Africa, getting enough electricity to power lights or charge cell phones can
mean traveling and paying someone for kerosene or a generator. Greenlight Planet is producing tiny
solar devices
that provide light and charge small electronics. The lights, branded Sun King, can power lights for up to 30 hours, which allows families to cook and study
well after sunset.

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A new study says states
did a better job of running elections in 2012
—and lists some
examples. A couple things stood out in regard to rural realities:

  1. Of the 10 states
    with the longest average wait times, eight of them were in the South.
    This is the same region that is enacting
    some of the most strident voter ID laws since the Supreme Court struck down key
    parts of the Voting Rights Act last summer. 
  2. Online voter registration: “States
    are pioneering innovations that make a real difference in the efficiency and
    accuracy of their elections operations while also saving money,” said David Becker of Pew Charitable Trusts.

Becker told NPR that a growing
number of states allow online voter registration and use technology to make
voting more efficient. There are currently 17 states that offer voters the
opportunity to register online.

With broadband use lower in rural areas, as a rule, we wonder how the online registration trend could affect rural voting.

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The owner of an
Internet-provider company in Minnesota says there’s
no rural broadband crisis
and private investment will take care of rural
America’s broadband needs.

“… Some people argue that a
lack of broadband is stifling the economic growth of Smalltown, USA,” writes
Kyle Ackerman in a Minneapolis Star-Tribune op-ed . “This is simply not true.
Smalltown is facing many other challenges, and people are using broadband as an
excuse. Let’s focus on the real, root causes, and not make excuses.”

Research published in the
Daily Yonder says broadband access and adoption (the use of broadband, not just
access to it) does affect rural economic development. (See here
and here
for a couple examples.)

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Colorado legislators are trying to rewrite
state telecommunications laws
to put more funding into building high-speed
Internet in areas that lack access. But the price of the change will be to
deregulate phone service. Opponents, most notably AARP, say deregulation will
lead to higher phone bills in parts of the state.

Critics point to evidence
that landline costs in other states have risen after deregulation. Older people
prefer landlines for their reliability, according to AARP.

Rep. Jim Wilson,
R-Salida, said during debate Monday that landlines often are the only way to
communicate for some of his constituents, especially in areas that lack
cellphone coverage.

“It is yesterday’s
technology, but when it’s the only technology you have, that’s the concern,”
Wilson said.

The bill passed the state
House Wednesday, and sponsors say they are optimistic about Senate approval.

What’s different this year?
Rural support, says Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose.

Coram began working last
fall on getting rural groups to coalesce around the broadband bills, and that
made the difference this year, he said.

“We had the rural people
at the table. They were telling us what they needed and how they needed it,” he
said.

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U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo (Kansas) has introduced the “Safe and
Accurate Food Labeling Act.” What does this bill do? A rational person would
assume it requires food producers to label their products accurately, leading
to more food safety for consumers. But according to Raw Story, the
bill would “nullify
efforts in multiple states to require labeling of genetically modified foods
.” 

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American Public Media’s Marketplace radio show covers coal via its Coal Play blog.
A couple posts this week are reported from eastern Kentucky, where they ask ‘What’s
after coal
?’ and “Who’s to blame
for coal’s decline?
” The latter post quotes Daily Yonder Publisher Dee Davis, who says, coal has “been our friend, but it’s not our future.”

 

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