Technology needed to bring communities into the future

Residents of small communities in central Pennsylvania are struggling to catch up with the advancement of technology all around them.

The Daily American of Somerset County, PA examined the challenges of high-speed Internet access in rural areas in a three-part series. The first portion examines the issue from the point of view of county officials; the second and third focus on families in the county, and in particular on "aggregators," who work to bring Internet access to small communities under a provision of state law.

Act 183 of the state Legislature helps bring Internet access to small communities. When 50 customers, or enough customers to make up 25 percent of the phone lines in a community, commit to purchasing a DSL connection, Verizon, the area's only telecommunications provider, is required to offer it. This commitment on the part of customers is known as a Bona Fide Retail Request, or BFRR, and a citizen who spearheads the request is an aggregator.

Unfortunately, the process of placing the BFRR can be a difficult one. All 50 customers must be within the same community as defined by Verizon, and only those who sign up with Verizon to become an aggregator can access the maps that determine community boundaries. Customers must sign up individually using a form available online – an obvious difficulty, considering that the reason for filing a BFRR form is slow or nonexistent Internet access.

Ron Aldom, director of the county’s Chamber of Commerce, says that business and education depend on reliable Internet access, and that cooperation between private citizens, groups and government entities is necessary to bring vital high-speed Internet service. Aggregators fill an especially important role. Aldom points to the dangers of the digital divide in rural areas:

"All I always ask is that life be fair. It is not fair that out of a class of 20, 18 can access the Internet for homework assignments but two of their classmates cannot because they live in an area of the county where broadband access is not available [...] Online learning is meaningless if you can't use it."

It's important to set policies at the national level as well as in the states that make high-speed Internet access universal. In order for places like Somerset County to reach their potential, improving Internet access must be a national priority.  

Daily American on Internet Access - Part 1

Daily American on Internet Access - Part 2

Daily American on Internet Access - Part 3

Verizon: BFRR Frequently Asked Questions