Wednesday Roundup: Rural ‘White Spaces’

Coalition plans wireless broadband in rural college towns • Economic development project goes bad in Moberly, Missouri • Fire pictures from Colorado • Interviews from the drought of all time in 1950s Texas

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A group wants to provide broadband to rural college communities over unused spectrum known as “white spaces.” 

A partnership between Google, Microsoft and more than 500 colleges and universities is seeking to create wireless networks that will provide 10Mbps channels in areas with a radius of about 10 kilometers. 

The group will have to obtain the spectrum from the Federal Communications Commission. On that score, it may face competition from cell carriers.

Adam Mazmanian reports in The National Journal about the implications of this effort for rural America:

Rural communities are seen as ideal for the use of white spaces for wireless broadband Internet connectivity, often called Super Wi-Fi, because they tend to have fewer licensed TV stations, and therefore more vacant spectrum in the white spaces. Further, the low frequency range of Super Wi-Fi means that a single base station can cover a radius of about 6 miles with high-speed broadband, according to Apurva Mody, Chair of the White Space Alliance.

• The town of Moberly, Missouri, says it’s not paying

The town was approached by the state economic development department about a Chinese firm that wanted to build a plant that would produce artificial sweetener. The town guaranteed $39 million in bonds to help build the plant.

The building has never been completed and the town says it doesn’t have the money to make its payments. Moberly says it was misled, having never been told that the firm was unsuccessful in building a similar plant in China.

The state economic development department knew before the bond sale that the company had been unsuccessful in China — but the state never told Moberly.

• Farmers markets are going high tech, the Boston Globe reports. They’ve got wireless, smartphone apps and any other way to to pay for food. 

• Washington Post columnist William Raspberry started a school in Okolona, Mississippi, his hometown, in 2003. He called it Baby Steps, and it aimed to teach parents of preschoolers how to get their children ready for school. 

Things have been tough in Okolona. The local district lost control of its schools in 2010, when the state took over after the local schools were deemed to be failing. But the town pulled together. And with the help of Baby Steps, the district regained control after its schools met all but two accreditation standards. It failed to meet 34 standards just two years ago.

“Our test scores and graduation rates were low, but it was only after we lost local control of the schools that parents came together and asked, ‘What do we need to do?’ ” Mayor Louise Cole recalled. “Baby Steps had already developed a reputation for teaching parents how to turn their homes into ‘learning environments,’ so the school became a gathering place, and Bill’s approach became a big part of our effort to turn the schools around.”

What a great story

• The U.S. will halve its reliance on oil from the Middle East by the end of the decade, the Wall Street Journal reports. The Middle East oil is being replaced by new sources in the West.

• The stories and photos coming out of Colorado are almost beyond believing. The Denver Post has a large photo slideshow here of the fires that are covering the state. 

Rural, urban….this fire doesn’t care. It’s taking everything.

• The House has rejected an attempt by more conservative Republicans to slash subsidies for rural air service.

The vote was 238-164, which killed a bid by Rep. Tom McClintock, a California Republican, to cut the Essential Air Service. This subsidizes flights to 120 communities in 35 states in the Lower 48 and 43 towns in Alaska. It was part of the $107 billion transportation spending bill.

“This program plays a key role in the economic development in many rural communities by ensuring that air service continues,” said Rep. Tom Latham, R-Iowa.

The House had earlier eliminated the subsidy, but a “coalition of Democrats and Republicans representing rural America” reversed this decision in the Senate. The vote yesterday upheld the Senate’s decision to maintain the air subsidy, which will be $214 million a year. 

Texas Monthly magazine interviewed survivors of the great Texas drought that lasted from 1950 to 1957. It was, in the title of Elmer Kelton’s great book, “The Time It Never Rained.”

Here is some of the interview with Mort Mertz, 88, a rancher who lives in San Angelo, Texas:

It started out west. It tended to get dry out there and not rain, and that lack of rainfall just moved east. My dad kept saying, “We have these things; they’ll just go about eighteen months. It’ll break.” But that’s what caught everybody off guard: it didn’t break. It just kept on going, and it lasted about seven years….

I’ve been in business all these years, and I can nearly say that anything that can happen has happened to me. I’ve had hailstorms that killed three hundred lambs. I’ve had lightning kill sixty to seventy sheep at one time. I’ve had lightning kill my saddle horses, my cows. I’ve had bad fires that burned up all my fences. The drought was a hundred times worse….

I don’t believe in running from a drought. I think you’re better off to just sell out and stay there and wait till it does rain again. Basically we sold out of everything until we didn’t have any livestock at all—just some yearling cattle and yearling sheep. There was a line on the highway up to the unloading pens at the Producers Auction, in San Angelo. Good young cows wouldn’t bring but $150. A good young cow now goes for $1,100 to $1,200. But nobody was depressed. We don’t get down.

• Read part 2 of InsideClimate News’ report on the Dilbit Disaster, “the biggest oil spill you’ve never heard of.” 

Great reporting here by Elizabeth McGowan and Lisa Song about a July 2010 pipeline spill that required the permanent removal of 150 people. The pipeline was carrying bitumen from the Canadian tar sands region. This is the same type of oil that would be carried in the Keystone XL pipeline.

• The post office in Sugar Hill, New Hampshire, is down to 30 minutes a day. Previously, the office was open three hours a day on weekdays and 90 minutes on Saturdays. 

The shorter hours were posted without warning on Memorial Day, a move that has left the town of 563 without an important meeting place. 

“This was a gathering place, a place to check in and find out what was going on,” said Margo Connors, chairwoman of the Board of Selectmen. “It’s a part of our very small town center.”

• The chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is telling his candidates to avoid the party’s national convention in Charlotte September 3-6. Rep. Steve Israel says it’s a waste of time and that candidates would be better off staying in their districts. 

Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri has already said she won’t be in Charlotte. 

• Two camping areas in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park have been closed because of bear activity.

The problems are scattered around the park, according to Sabian Warren in the Asheville Citizen-Times. Several park sites are under bear warnings.

Warren reports that there are 1,500 black bears in the park.

• Someone who invested in ag land in 2002 would have earned a 500 percent return by 2011. 

 

 

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