Roundup: The Broadband Double Standard
A rural housing crisis • Dems face uphill battle in 2016 • The state of Whole Foods • Carbon capture and storage report • How do farmers think about climate change? • Enticing doctors to serve in rural • Small town, large bandwidth
Big broadband providers are talking out of both sides of their modem, says the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission.
The big guys like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T opposed the FCC’s decision yesterday to up the definition of broadband to 25 megabits per second (Mbps) downstream and 3 Mbps upstream. (The old standard was 4 Mbps for downloading and 1 Mpbs for uploading.)
In opposing the change, the corporations said consumers don’t need higher speeds.
But when they advertise their products, the communications giants are singing a different tune, Wheeler said.
“Somebody is telling us one thing and telling consumers another,” Wheeler said before the FCC voted 3-2 along party lines to change the broadband definition.
Wheeler gave several examples of big broadband providers telling consumers they need speeds of 25 Mbps, 45 Mps and even 50 Mps to really enjoy video, music, gaming and other online activities. But they told the FCC that increasing the broadband definition would “serve no purpose.”
The FCC’s broadband standard is used to determine how well the nation is doing in providing digital access.
Democrats Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel joined Wheeler in voting for the new standards. Republicans Ajit Pai and Michael O’Rielly opposed the change, saying it was moving the goalposts on Internet providers.
Depending on your point of view, a Twitter hashtag game provides commentary on — or ridicule of — rural Southerners. Hashtag.org reports on #redneckabook, which reached a peak of 24,000 tweets an hour Wednesday. Participants were supposed to take a book title and give it a redneck angle, as in "To Roadkill a Mockingbird" or "Fifty Shades of Camouflage."
Hashtag.org says the Twitter game provided humorous commentary on social stereotypes, although it admits there were "many inappropriate uses of the hashtag."
Take a look. Wry social commentary or ethnically focused invective that we would never tolerate if the target were any other subset of Americans?
The Atlantic looks at the “silent crisis” in rural housing, where federal aid is on the decline and the lower-cost of living is offset by even lower average income levels.
It’s great to see an urban-centric publication like the Atlantic venture past the last subway stop into the heartland. The piece interviews some of the right folks – David Dangler with the rural program of the housing network Neighborworks, Jim King with the Appalachian-focused housing coalition Fahe, and Sheila Crowley with the policy group National Low-Income Housing Coalition.
But assumptions of what people know and don’t know about urban and rural America make the piece jarring at times.
Here’s one example:
Few people think about rural communities—not only when it comes to housing issues, but at all. It’s mostly a numbers game. … [O]nly about 21 percent of Americans lived in rural areas, which means that not many people outside those areas … probably feel much association with rural issues. And that can make it difficult to shed light on the problems that happen there. Making the case to divert funds and attention to parts of the country that house a mere 20 percent of the total population can be an uphill battle, especially in difficult economic times.
A “mere” 20 percent of the U.S. population is 63 million people. And since when do we talk about any minority population as mere? You wouldn’t write about New York as a city of merely 8.4 million people.
As for diverting public funds, that makes it sound as if housing funding belongs to urban areas and spending it anywhere else is an extraordinary move. In reality, the diversion has occurred the other way around – the Obama administration has diverted rural housing money to urban programs.
And we’d love to know the source of the statement that “not many people outside [rural] areas … feel much association with rural issues.” Public opinion polls frequently tell us otherwise. Take just this one from the American Planning Association, which found 40% of respondents would prefer to live in a small town or out in the country, if they had the choice.
Now that the 2014 congressional election is history, it’s time, of course, to look toward 2016. The Washington Post examines the daunting task facing Democrats who are talking about retaking a majority of the seats in the House.
Party leaders acknowledge that’s a long shot, and that's an optimistic assessment.
What party leaders don’t acknowledge is the geographic challenge Democrats face with voters. Republicans won 82% of the nation’s counties in the November election. They generally outperformed Democrats everywhere except the nation’s largest metropolitan areas.
As Bill Bishop reports, it’s not a rural/urban divide; it’s a major-city and everyplace-else divide. Democrats will need to expand support beyond core cities if they want enough votes to make a dent in the Republican majority. So far, we haven’t seen an analysis that acknowledges this fact, let alone one that examines how Democrats might pull that off.
Bloomberg Business reports on the pressure on Whole Foods to keep performing well in the market they created.
On the strength of its share price, Whole Foods briefly became the second-most valuable food retailer in the U.S., behind Wal-Mart Stores, in the fall of 2013. But Whole Foods, unaffectionately known as Whole Paycheck, had a lousy 2014. Same-store sales growth fell from 8 percent to 4 percent, and its share price tumbled 10 percent. Meanwhile, competition is squeezing Whole Foods like an organic lemon over a bowl of quinoa.
The idea of carbon capture and storage, the practice of redirecting CO2 from fossil fuel energy plants into the ground instead of the air, may need reconsideration, according to a new report from MIT.
Researchers at the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences at MIT have discovered that only a “small fraction” of the carbon dioxide solidifies and turns into rock after it is injected 7,000 feet below the earth’s surface. The rest, it adds, remains in a more “tenuous form.” If the carbon is stored in deep aquifers where large pockets of brine exist, then it can solidify. However, the team found that this solidification creates a wall that prevents the bulk of the carbon dioxide from reacting with the brine.
Sociologist J. Gordon Arbuckle Jr. (his real name, for the record) has been studying how farmers view climate change. He’s found that a majority of farmers believe in climate change, but doubt it’s caused by human activity. Arbuckle’s research data could prove helpful in figuring out how to talk about sensitive subjects with people who do not really trust you.
The study results raise questions about the best way for researchers and other groups to communicate climate change to an audience that may not trust them as a reliable source of information. Whether or not farmers agree about the causes or even existence of climate change, researchers agree that farmers still have to prepare their farms for the consequences of rising temperatures, increased atmospheric CO2 and more extreme weather events.
"Here in the Corn Belt, it is predicted that climate change will bring more intense rains, longer dry periods and higher heat, and a number of other impacts," said Arbuckle.
Arizona state senators will soon vote on a bill to expand a program that helps doctors repay their debts if they agree to work in rural and underserved areas. The current program pays $67,000 of a student’s outstanding loan, which can be up to a quarter of a million dollars, if they work in an underserved area for four years. It’s capped at that figure, though, and there’s no financial incentive to stay longer. The new bill, if passed, would repay the loan $65,000 over two years, then $35,000 for each year after that.
Connect Iowa, an organization working to increase broadband connectivity in Iowa, has just named Manning a Certified Connected Community. They are the state’s first sub-5,000 population town to receive that recognition. The town, which boasts several public wireless hot spots, has seen an increase in population retention over the past decade and attributes some of that to the availability of high-speed Internet service.
[IT technician for Manning Municipal Communications & Television Systems Utility Jason] Ehlers says the town has seen an increase in the amount of young people returning or staying in the community in the past decade, and Reischl points to high-speed internet access as one contributing factor. Just like in more urban, well-connected areas, residents of Manning are using that high-speed internet to watch programs through Netflix and Amazon Prime, he says.
Ehlers says they work with local telephone companies in the area to help lower costs to provide the service and reduce interference with each other’s systems.++