ntca+rural smart communityThe introduction of technologies like 1 Gbps FTTH broadband and smart grid to communities like Chattanooga, Tennessee has given birth to the concept of a smart city. Google aims to do the same thing in Kansas City. Both of those communities can be considered urban. So what about rural smart communities?

The Rural Smart Communities Summit
The National Telecommunications Cooperative Association (NTCA), a trade association representing the interests of small rural telco and broadband carriers, hosted the Rural Smart Communities Summit today in Washington DC. NTCA is opening a dialogue with rural interest organizations, including government and policy wonks, regarding the importance of ensuring smart communities also materialize in rural America.

The summit was attended by approximately 24 organizations and government agencies including NTIA, NRTC, NRECA, RUS, the Dept. of Veterans Affairs, National Rural Health Association, the Rural School and Community Trust, the Southern Rural Development Center, and the White House Domestic Policy Council, to name a few. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, IBM, and Discovery Education represented the private sector.

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Definition of a Rural Smart Community
Step one in this dialogue is to bring consensus to the definition of a smart rural community. NTCA has published a whitepaper, The Smart Rural Community, which offers the following definition, “A smart rural community relies on broadband networks to enable a series of applications that the community can leverage for innovative economic development and commerce, top‐notch education, first‐rate health care, cutting‐edge government services, enhanced security and more efficient utilities use,” as a beginning point. The recurring theme throughout today’s discussion revolved around broadband and its critical role for smart communities of any type, in any geographic location.

Today’s summit kicked off with opening remarks from RUS Administrator Jonathan Adelstein. Adelstein made no secret of his view regarding broadband and rural America stating, “I advocate a telecom diet rich in fiber,” alluding to his desire to see continued investment in fiber optics technology, both in the last and middle mile networks of rural America.

As many broadband advocates do, Adelstein equated the need for a robust broadband network in all of America to the need over 60 years ago for a national highway network. The completion of that highway network “…wasn’t just good for rural Americans, it was good for all Americans, and the same can be said for broadband.”

Adelstein also put the need for robust broadband in all U.S. communities, urban and rural alike, into a global competitive context. “China has 1.3 billion people and we have 300 million, which means they’ve got us by 1 billion people. Rural America has 50 million citizens. We need them and can’t afford to leave 50 million citizens behind,” in the global competitive race. Interesting way to look at it.

NTCA policy analyst Jesse Ward followed Adelstein with a discussion of the NTCA white paper highlighting several examples of smart rural community applications which are already in progress. Ward identified a rural smart grid example taking place in Ellendale, North Dakota with Dickey Rural Networks and several partners including the local rural electric cooperative.

Key Issues and Next Steps
Key issues were raised by the summit attendees regarding broadband and the goal of building rural smart communities. The role of education was a recurring theme, both in terms of K-12 schools and post-secondary education, and education of rural consumers as to the benefits of broadband. Important input was heard from other rural constituencies including the revealing fact that close to 50% of veterans reside in rural America.

The importance of broadband adoption was in heavy rotation as well. Several participants discussed the disconnect between broadband availability and actual broadband adoption. In many pockets of rural America, “build it and they will come” does not seem to apply.

NTCA believes this is a first step in this important discussion – one they want to continue. Today’s summit validated a key point that Ward of NTCA stated in her presentation, that “… the definition of a rural smart community is dynamic.” Next steps discussed at today’s summit include increased collaboration among the participating organizations, a follow up meeting with more tangible goals, and perhaps the identification of a pilot rural smart community. Such a community would put many of the applications of a smart city into practice for further study, with the goal of establishing a roadmap for rural communities who want to become “smart.”

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5 thoughts on “NTCA Opens Dialogue on the Rural Smart Community

  1. The number of veterans living in rural areas is a really interesting statistic. I've read elsewhere that young people in rural areas are more likely to enlist in the military and if you watch army recruitment ads, they're often set in rural areas. But I didn't realize the number of veterans was so high.

    1. I agree – not sure if that stat is anecdotal or hard data. A representative from the Veterans Affairs Dept. mentioned it regarding the importance of rural communities.

      An unrelated, yet incredible stat (at least in my book) was offered by AARP:

      The average traditional phone call between grandparent and grandchild lasts 1 min. The average skype call between grandparent and grandchild lasts 20 mins.! Certainly the presence of video on many skype calls would increase it's length over a traditional call, but that's a pretty amazing stat – one that highlights the ongoing shift away from TDM to broadband and IP.

  2. The cost of bandwidth to provide a connection to customers in a small town would have to change dramatically for any of this to work. My company pays $1400/month for the 10Mb fiber optic connection we use to provide service to our small town cable modem customers, so I can only imagine what a gigabyte connection would cost. I'm certain it would be prohibitively expensive, since our customer numbers and what we can charge our customers are only able to support the size connection we have today.

  3. Personally I think a smart community is more about the people who reside there than the technology that is available. People make up a community. I don't believe every community can become "smart" just because they have good broadband.

  4. @Glenn is right. Until smaller independents can control more of their own destiny with regards to backhaul, these smart communities are going to be few and far between.

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