Broadband

Ashley Leal parks in front of the Plains, Kansas, Community Library. It’s about to close, but she doesn’t care. She pulls out her blue laptop.

“I’m ... using the Wi-Fi,” Leal says with a laugh.

Her home internet was so slow, she came to the library parking lot. Cars often idle there in the evening while their drivers tap into a plodding, but treasured, link to the internet.

“I’m just thankful that we have somewhere to go,” Leal says.

It’s the only free internet in this small western Kansas town. For many people, it’s the only internet, period. Surprisingly, part of the problem and the solution, for rural areas may lie in Netflix traffic.

Erica Hunzinger / Harvest Public Media

Since the George W. Bush administration, the federal government has doled out millions of dollars with the promise to expedite access to broadband service in remote parts of the country.

President Donald Trump is no exception, having signed an executive order earlier this month directing the government to use “all viable tools” to speed up the process to locate wireless technology on federal buildings in rural areas. Plus, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai just proposed putting a $500 million toward rural broadband.

While all political persuasions agree with the recent U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Task Force report that broadband is critical for the economic health of a large swath of the country, experts say the devil is in the details — or lack thereof. They also say Pai’s infusion of money does little more than restore funding that previously had been cut.