Nebraska state officials have released a plan that aims to have faster Internet service available to more households by 2020.
The goals in the “Broadband in Nebraska” report include having broadband service of at least 25 megabytes per second available to 90 percent of homes, and having 90 percent of Nebraska households subscribe to broadband service.
Rural areas are more expensive for carriers because the service has to cover greater distances and even then reaches relatively few paying customers.
The infrastructure for high-speed Internet is costly in rural areas, but could be achieved by stringing fiber-optic cables along the same power poles maintained by Nebraska’s public power districts, said Sen. Paul Schumacher of Columbus.
“In rural areas, we’re a long way away unless you’re willing to pour a lot more money into it or let the public power companies do it,” said Schumacher, a co-founder of Community Internet Systems, one of the state’s first Internet companies.
The report by the Nebraska Information Technology Commission calls for on the state to use the state’s universal service fund to create new infrastructure, and to partner with libraries and colleges to help teach Internet skills to those who aren’t frequent users. Money from the fund comes from a state fee tacked onto consumers’ telephone bills.
A survey of Nebraskans earlier this year found that 90 percent of Lincoln homes and 87 percent of Omaha households have broadband access, but the percentage in other regions ranged from 72 percent to 77 percent.
A University of Nebraska-Lincoln economist told lawmakers last year that his research has shown a correlation between broadband service in small towns and business activity. The research found that smaller towns with broadband services also tended to have more 18- to 34-year-olds and residents with college degrees.
Medical experts also note that broadband has helped reduce health care costs in Nebraska and made it easier to monitor a patient’s recovery in a remote area through video conferencing.
Lt. Gov. John Nelson, chairman of the information technology commission, said Nebraska needs to encourage more youth to pursue careers in information technology.
“Broadband has been a notable factor in Nebraska’s economic growth,” Nelson said.
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