Rural Telecommunications Workshop
Sponsored by:
TVA Rural Studies,
The Economic Research Service (USDA), and
The Western Rural Development Center
September, 1998

The October 1999 issue of Rural Development Perspectives contains articles selected by Peter Stenberg from several people who gave papers at the 1998 rural telecommunications workshop sponsored by the Economic Research Service, TVA Rural Studies, and the Western Rural Development Center. Additional articles from the conference forthcoming on this website.

The availability and use of advanced telecommunications is critical to the future of rural areas, in the United States and abroad. With them, rural people, businesses, and communities can access a world of information... information that can lead to economic advance, higher quality healthcare, better education, and a host of other advantages. Without them, rural areas will continue to lag behind their urban counterparts. Consequently, people who care about rural areas (policymakers, practitioners, and rural citizens) are searching for ways to ensure that rural areas get the telecommunications infrastructure, equipment, and training they so badly need.

On September 14 and 15, 1998, TVA Rural Studies along with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service and the Western Rural Development Center hosted a workshop to explore many of the issues surrounding rural telecommunications. Participants in the workshop (researchers from academia and government, as well as policymakers) presented and discussed research findings on several aspects of rural telecommunications. Among the topics were:

  • The history of rural telecommunications;
  • The availability of telecommunications in rural areas;
  • Ways to deploy telecommunications to rural areas;
  • The uses and effects of telecommunications with respect to rural business;
  • The implications of advanced telecommunications for healthcare, education, and the disabled in rural areas.

While the insights gained from the research and discussion are too numerous to detail here, a few key findings are worth mentioning.

  • Telecommunications technology (including computers) is changing the way the world lives. It affects everything from business to education, from healthcare to entertainment. And rural areas are no exception.
  • The potential for telecommunications to help rural areas overcome some of their historic disadvantages is tremendous. By reducing the rural ‘distance penalty’, telecommunications can provide rural areas with services comparable to those found heretofore only in urban areas.
  • However, many obstacles stand in the way. Because of some of the defining characteristics of rural areas (remoteness, low population density, reliance on few economic sectors) rural areas stand a very real chance of missing out on the telecommunications revolution. The very things that make it critical for rural areas to receive the technology can prevent them from getting it especially in a purely competitive market as well as adopting and using it. Thus, rural areas will require special consideration and efforts if they are to fully participate in the information age.
These and other insights are more fully explained in publications forthcoming from TVA Rural Studies that will be available on this site.

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