“Hot Spot” Pilot Program Gives Rural Oklahomans Connectivity to Broadband

It seems internet access is becoming as common a utility as water and electricity, yet some across the nation still do not have access or choose not to purchase broadband service. In rural Oklahoma, for example, both are the case, but a pilot program sponsored by Oklahoma State University is looking to increase broadband connectivity and interest in rural areas of the state by offering free broadband “hot spot” devices, reports NewsOK.

In four small Oklahoma towns with populations around 2,500, public libraries loan out the “hot spot” devices for free, which can offer connectivity to up to 10 devices at once. Afterwards, renters of the devices are asked to fill out a survey detailing their usage habits and satisfaction with the devices.

Brian Whitacre, an associate professor at Oklahoma State University, is one of the academics behind the program. Whitacre notes that access to broadband connectivity is correlated with lower income levels and higher rates of unemployment, a trend on display in the Sooner State. 2015 U.S. census data put the state at 65 percent broadband connectivity, which is lower than many of the state’s neighbors including Kansas and Texas.

“Without high-speed connections, people don’t have good access to keep connected to family, do research on health, search for jobs or have good online resources for their children’s homework,” Whitacre told NewsOK.

Whitacre’s study has shown that broadband connectivity in rural areas of the state isn’t necessarily due to lack of access or infrastructure. According to a survey conducted, 48 percent of people reported they don’t have internet because they are not interested and 29 percent say that the service is too expensive.

During the Obama administration, $7 billion was the national expenditure to expand internet infrastructure and increase broadband connectivity. Whitacre hopes his study will increase overall interest in broadband access and the myriad of opportunities it can offer to residents in rural areas.  

July 5, 2017        

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