I travelled recently to Lovington, Illinois.
Before my departure, a friend asked, “What’s in Lovington?”
I replied, “When I get there, one-thousand, one-hundred, and one people.” I thought that I had been to small towns (in Kansas once, my cab driver called for another car after he was in an accident; the “other cab” was a Toyota Corolla driven by his wife, and we shared the ride with their daughter and baby granddaughter), but Lovington may be among the smallest to which I have been.
I went to Lovington to participate in a public launch of a USDA-supported fiber build by Moultrie Independent Telephone Co. It has been a while since I have had some good windshield time in the Midwest, and it was even better to fly into “Big 10 Champaign” (a real Big 10 town, unlike Maryland or New Jersey). I even stopped in an Illini team store (wearing my Buckeyes cap) just to see how the other half lives.
The fiber build is, justifiably and understandably and rightly, a big deal for the community. And, judging from the turn-out, which included regional TV, local media, congressional district office representatives, local business people, and local educational professionals, it seems the community really understands what is on the horizon. At an event that NTCA hosted in Washington about two years ago, we asked a panel of experts from universities in Missouri and Texas and even Columbia University in New York City whether broadband is more important for rural than urban areas, and they all agreed that broadband is necessary for rural America.
And, what happens when broadband comes to rural America?
In Georgia, in a community where the median income is $15,000 below the National average, broadband powers a connected health cart in a school nurse’s office, enabling students to connect to a regional medical center more than 50 miles away so that doctors can see and hear kids who in all likelihood would not have an opportunity to visit a doctor.
In Iowa, fiber facilities were a key element that attracted a 260,000 square-foot manufacturing plant that created 200 jobs. In Alaska, broadband reaches students who cannot reach school in inclement weather.
In McKee, Kentucky, fiber is set to support an innovative pilot that will bring telehealth services to our Nation’s veterans. The week before I went to Lovington, the Veterans’ Administration and NTCA member Peoples Rural Telephone Cooperative signed a Memorandum of Understanding, and NTCA issued a grant through its Smart Rural Community program to help support a public space at which veterans will be able to access VA telehealth and other on-line services at no cost to the veterans or the VA.
That’s what broadband brings, and that’s what Moultrie’s new fiber build promises the community. In a letter, Hardin County General Hospital & Clinic in nearby Rosiclaire (182 miles away, pop. 1,160) explained how it uses fiber infrastructure:
Our hospital's history with connectivity started with dial-up connections used for email and billing. As technology became more available we have taken advantage of the increased opportunities . . . Our laboratory utilizes the services of a regional resource lab that aren't feasible or readily available in our facility. . . . Our radiology department sends X-rays and CT Scans to distant radiologists for readings. In situtations where timing is critical, our radiologist can immediately review a patient's scan and report back to the treating physician. . . . [fiber] has come a reliable and integral part of the delivery of health care to our community.
A local school district offical explained how broadband enables core educational opportunities, particularly in rural areas where access to specialized materials or instructors may not be available. These and other benefits will ensure that every child, every entrepreneur, every elderly person who can age in place with the support of telemedicine and social connectivity can look forward to seizing the best that broadband enables.
In Lovington, the “small of the small” is about to go big.