Broadband Cable Association of Pennsylvania


September 17, 2012

To tourists, the rolling hills and wide open landscapes of Adams County offer pleasant weekend getaways visiting the wineries and traversing the battlefield. But to a growing number of residents, the bucolic nature of the area has them fearing history will leave them behind.

While isolated communities might be the perfect location for quaint bed-and-breakfast inns and small-town charm, that distance from major metropolitan centers makes technological advancement difficult. Most importantly, high speed Internet connection in Adams County is severely limited, leaving businesses, students, and residents lagging behind their urban counterparts. A U.S. Department of Commerce study conducted in 2011 found that only 60 percent of rural Americans use broadband, which is reliable Internet access that is always on and can be delivered at speeds much quicker than traditional dial-up access. That is compared to 70 percent of urban households that use broadband.

Recognizing that gap, the Adams County commissioners gathered a group of educators, small-business owners, government officials, and technology experts and formed a task force, Adams County Connected, aimed at bringing affordable broadband Internet access to Adams County. According to the task force, the lack of reliable connection puts businesses and citizens in the county behind the technology curve and limits their ability to attract new economic growth. Since its formation in May, the task force has identified the two main inhibitors barring Adams County residents from reliable high-speed Internet connection - lack of infrastructure and high prices. Although those are two separate issues, infrastructure and price are very much related. Insufficient infrastructure is often indicative of a small number of service providers and less competition, which drives prices higher.

In the world of broadband, infrastructure includes cables or digital satellite transmissions that deliver Internet access to individual homes or businesses. High speed fiber-optic cables are common in urban areas, but become scarce in less populated regions. Broadband transmission is then transferred to slower standard cable or DSL lines, if they are available at all. That means that in many rural areas where broadband connection is available, it is often transmitted at slower speeds. The task force is now trying to bring faster and additional infrastructure into the county by attracting more service providers to the area, an impossible goal without the help and interest of residents. "Internet providers will not build the investment of laying down cable without the guarantee that there are enough people here to use the service and make it worth it," said Scott Wehler, vice president of engineering at Adams Electric Cooperative and a member of the task force.

That is where the public comes in. Through a series of educational workshops, informative pamphlets and advertising, the task force hopes to convince residents to become those guaranteed customers that the service providers are looking for. "Everyone will benefit from this because with more people involved, it keeps costs down," Troy Dean, creative director of Graphcom creative and a member of the task force said. "It will really give Adams County the opportunity to attract businesses." Although many of those businesses in Adams County are rooted in rural charm and historic character, reliable Internet connection is still vital for their survival. "It is literally the only way I can do my business," said Gerry Michaels, principal and owner of the social media company Studmuffin Media in Cashtown. "I need the speed and reliability of the Internet. If it goes out, then I'm in trouble."

Studmuffin Media is a perfect example of the inextricable link that has developed between business and high-speed Internet. With the company, Michaels develops social media accounts for other businesses around the country and the world. "Even if these companies don't understand what Facebook and Twitter are, they know they have to be involved in it," Michaels said, describing what draws customers to his business. "The Internet is where the next generation of customers is." Michaels marvels over his ability to reach those customers anytime and from anywhere. "I can sit down and talk to people in Russia or France. That's a blast," Michaels said. "And I can do all of that from right here. That is business and taxes that the community wouldn't have without that technology."

But in order to get the high-speed access that allows him to conduct a business from small-town Pennsylvania, Michaels has to pay a high premium because the infrastructure for broadband simply isn't strong enough in Adams County and there are not many options for service providers. Typically, the fewer providers available, the higher the costs. Pennsylvania ranks as one of the worst states in the country in terms of the difference between the number of providers in urban and rural areas, according to a study done by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. The same study found that there is a 15 to 25 percent difference in the number of service providers, such as Comcast or Verizon, between these regions. For Michaels, who pays $100 month for high speed Internet, all of these facts and figures have a tangible effect on his business. "I wouldn't have to pay these high prices elsewhere," Michaels said.

A 2010 study conducted by the U.S Small Business Administration supported Michaels claim, finding that, "rural small businesses pay significantly higher prices than metro small businesses for the same bandwidth." This was determined through a case study, also conducted by the U.S Small Business Administration, comparing broadband prices in rural and urban Minnesota. The study found that a rural customer living in small-town Waseca, Minn. pays $139.95 for the same Internet speed as a customer living in Minneapolis and paying half that price. At even higher speeds, the price gap grows, with premium speeds costing a consumer in Waseca 2 1/2 times as much as a consumer in Minneapolis. In the future, the task force will try to prevent that price disparity from growing in Adams County by working with service providers and applying for state grants aimed at bringing high speed Internet to rural areas. With the next two years set aside just for information-gathering and plan-making, this goal will take a long time to achieve, but for the task force, the effort is well worth it. "The world is changing," Michaels said. "We have to change with it." Hanover Evening Sun

With a texting ban already on the books, a western Pennsylvania lawmaker says he wants to try again to force drivers to hang up their handheld cellphones when they're behind the wheel.

Rep. Joe Markosek, a Democrat from Allegheny County, says he plans to introduce legislation this fall that would ban drivers from using handheld devices unless they're using a GPS device. Novice drivers would be prohibited from using any handheld device while driving. Now the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, Markosek formerly served as the chairman of the House Transportation Committee, where he helped spearhead at least three previous failed efforts to pass a handheld cell phone ban.

The state House and Senate return to work from their summer break on Sept. 24 and will be in session for just a handful of days before an campaign season break in October brings all work to a halt for the year. In an interview Friday, Markosek said he's introducing the bill "to keep the conversation going" on the issue and to tee it up for action in the new legislative session that starts in January. He's hoping that continued public support - along with an influx of new lawmakers - might help the bill succeed where past efforts have failed. Of equal importance, he said, is educating the public about the hazards of cell phone use behind the wheel (the bill contains just such a provision) because "this is a behavioral issue and we can't really legislate that."

Fifty-eight people were killed on state highways in 2011 as a resule of distracted-driving related accidents, according to information provided by Markosek's office. "It does spur the conversation," he said. Current state law makes it a primary offense to send text messages while driving. That means police can pull a motorist over if they spot a violation. The law has been difficult to enforce however because motorists have told officers that they were using their handhelds for a permitted use.

Thirty-nine states, along with Washington D.C., Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands ban text messaging for all drivers. All but 4 have primary enforcement. An additional 5 states prohibit text messaging by novice drivers, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. Just 10 states, along with Washington D.C., Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands ban drivers from using handheld cell phones while they're behind the wheel. Except for Maryland and West Virginia (until July 2013) all laws are a primary offense, Unlike many issues that come before the General Assembly, the debate over cell phone use by drivers is less a traditional fight between moneyed interests and more about cultural and philosophical differences among lawmakers. Rural and culturually conservative lawmakers have framed the debate over cellphones as a matter of personal responsibility and choice. Markosek plans to start circulating a co-sponsorship memo seeking supporters for the bill next week. A spokesman for House Republicans could not immediately be reached for comment.

It's not TV, it's HBO. And it's not available online without a cable subscription anytime soon. So Netflix investors can rest easy. An HBO exec made clear to the tech community last week that its HBO GO streaming service has to remain bundled with customers' cable subscriptions, and can't operate as a stand-alone service. "It's math," said Alison Moore at TechCrunch's DISRUPT conference in San Francisco. "It's easy to say that, '$8 a month, just launch it direct to consumer, and then it's all going to be fine.' I think there's a lot more detail that goes behind that." By "math" and "detail," Moore, a senior vice president of digital platforms, means lucrative retransmission deals with cable and telecom companies are the real reason HBO would be wary of releasing its content to the Internet.

Cable companies rely on HBO content to lure customers into buying higher revenue-generating subscription packages, analysts said. The blunt calculation comes as consumers demand more content online, with 51 percent of Netflix subscribers saying they'd pay for a similar streaming service offered by pay TV, according to a GfK study. Netflix stock jumped 5 percent after blogs cited the conference news. Amazon, which last month was eyeing other forms of content for its line of Kindle tablets, has also cut a deal with Epix, a movie channel, to put flicks up on the Web. HBO GO, launched in 2010, runs on PCs, tablets, smartphones and Xboxes. New York Post