This dog just won’t hunt…

Every time I want to sit down and write a little bit about how rural folks can better use the internet, someone in the US congress proposes a bill that just reinforces how little they understand about how the online world works. Here is the case in point: the Protect IP bill in the Senate (S968) and the Stop Online Piracy Act in the House. These two bills were introduced as methods to stop the piracy of intellectual property, mostly movies, online. Unfortunately, they are written so very broadly, that they subject casual social media users (yes, that’s your grandmother posting those baby videos) to prosecution and jail time and endanger the very stability of the internet itself.

I agree that intellectual property needs protection. Much of the value of business in the US involves IP in one way or another. However, these bills are not the way to go. Rebecca MacKinnon, writing for the New York Times, says, “While American intellectual property deserves protection, that protection must be won and defended in a manner that does not stifle innovation, erode due process under the law, and weaken the protection of political and civil rights on the Internet.”

To better understand this proposed legislation, see the video on the site. To see what’s happening since these bills were introduced, see Matt Cutts’ blog entry. (Scroll down past the video for more fun facts.) He has an interesting graph showing the amount and type of funding going into these bills.

For rural folks, this legislation could have some serious repercussions. I think the most serious side-effect would be the fear created. Would you post anything on Facebook, YouTube, or Twitter if you could potentially be prosecuted for it? I’ve quoted lines from TV shows in previous posts, mostly as an homage to them. Would I have to pull those or risk going to jail? Would a small business, such as a farm, be willing to use these online tools with that level of risk? Censorship could happen to anyone accused, (not convicted, but only accused) of posting content that might infringe on IP rights. Something as simple as quoting a popular song or submitting an outdoor video that had a logo or background music in it could get you censored or jailed. Any social media company that didn’t actively censor every posting could be shut down.

We would, essentially, become China. I don’t know about you, but I like my hard-won civil liberties.

Okay, can I get back to talking about rural geek things now?

FCC Overhauls the Universal Service Fund

What’s the Universal Service Fund and what does that mean to those of us who want and need broadband? Let’s just say, it’s a big deal.

“We are taking a system designed for the Alexander Graham Bell era of rotary telephones and modernizing it for the era of Steve Jobs and the Internet future he imagined,” said FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski.

In other words, by improving efficiencies in how technologies are handled, rural places can be brought into the 21st century, without increasing the amount of funding already set aside for rural communications systems. More details can be found in the USA Today article: or at

Still, I’m constantly amazed at how many people feel that rural broadband should not be funded at all, that internet access is a privilege granted only to those who live in densely populated areas. They say, “If you want broadband, move to the city”. I say that this is the height of self-interest and denies that rural places have anything to offer those who don’t live there.

If you live in the city or the suburbs, you benefit directly from rural production. You wouldn’t have food, building materials, oil, gas, or all the minerals that go into your iPads and X-boxes if it weren’t for folks who live and work in the country. By denying these industries, and the people who work in them, access to high-speed connections, we are actually increasing the costs of those goods to ourselves. When farmers have to call long distance on a conventional phone in order to get their produce to the right market, they have to pass those costs onto their consumers. The same goes for any industry that tries to succeed on an uneven playing field. By getting the efficiencies of new technologies into the hands of businesses, rural or urban, we make everyone’s life better. I won’t even mention how difficult it is for rural industries to compete in a world market, where other countries have much more advanced high-speed systems. (Oh pooh! I just mentioned it.)

Here are a few statistics about the benefits we’ll see from the overhaul of the Universal Service Fund:

  • Americans living in unserved rural areas who will receive access to broadband over the next decade: 18 million
  • Consumers who will get mobile broadband coverage where they live, work, and travel: millions
  • Jobs created related to new deployment in rural areas over five years: 500,000
  • Annual economic benefits in rural areas from new deployment: $700 million
  • Annual increase in economic growth, creating jobs: $50 billion
  • Benefit to cost ratio for consumers: $3 to $1
  • Percentage of FORTUNE 500 companies that post job openings online only – and require online applications: over 80 percent
  • Graduation rates for students with broadband at home compared to similar students with no broadband access: 6% to 8% higher