NCTA Minnesota

NCTA–The Internet and Television Association has made a 20-minute documentary video focusing on rural broadband deployment challenges. The video, titled “Every Last Mile,” follows work crews in three states — Alaska, Arizona and Minnesota — as the crews encounter temperature extremes, bedrock, undocumented buried infrastructure and more.

The work crews are from three cable companies: Alaska’s GCI, Mediacom in Minnesota, and Cox in Arizona. But the video isn’t a hard sell on cableco rural broadband.

It could be a valuable resource at a time when the U.S. is seriously pursuing the goal of getting high-speed broadband to unserved and underserved rural areas. Potentially, it could help educate policymakers and others about why rural broadband deployments can sometimes be so costly.

Rural Broadband Deployment Challenges

The documentary video follows a GCI crew in King Cove, Alaska, a community accessible only by air and sea, where the crew encounters some tough challenges on the way to meeting a deadline to get fiber to a school and clinic.

“In communities like this, they might not know where the utilities run,” observes the crew chief as the crew carefully attempts to determine what they might hit as they begin trenching.

The crew also must avoid disturbing archaeological relics that could be thousands of years old left by native residents.

Communication with the outside world by cellphone also can be challenging. The video notes, for example, that some cell towers in Alaska run on fuel flown in by special helicopter.

The Mediacom crew in Lakewood Township, Minn., had a nature-imposed deadline — getting fiber in the ground during the short season when the ground isn’t frozen solid. The area, in the state’s Iron Range, has impenetrable bedrock in some sections.

As the crew chief notes, a mile of cabling in a major metro area might pass 2,000 people, but in rural areas of the state, a mile of cabling might pass two houses. At one point, some of the crew members must wade into cold water that comes above their knees to help meet the crew’s goal of deploying a mile of fiber every day.

The Arizona Cox crew also encounters some unique challenges, including a hardened, nature-made cement known as caliche. Other challenges: extreme heat, rattlesnakes, scorpions and, in one case, fast-moving traffic on a rural highway.

“Everyone understands the importance of connecting all communities to fast and reliable internet access, but few have seen just how daunting that work can be,” said Michael Powell, president and CEO of NCTA, in a prepared statement about the “Every Last Mile” documentary video.

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