Bringing America’s Rural Communities Up to Speed with its Urban Neighbors

By Joy Tan, SVP Public Affairs, Huawei Technologies USA


Many consider the United States the world’s only remaining superpower, and its citizens are seen as lucky to live in a predominantly developed and progressive nation. Yet, broadband connectivity in the U.S. does not match its reputation as a leading country. The Federal Communications Commission reports that 24 million Americans lack access to broadband. Rural communities make up a majority of this group, with 19 million rural-based Americans lacking the ability to access high-speed internet at home.  

Making matters worse, these rural citizens, unlike their urban counterparts, are unlikely to live close to public libraries or universities where they could access the internet easily and when necessary. The bottom line: people in rural communities need high-speed broadband via fiber or 4G/5G wireless technology in their homes to function, from children using the internet for schoolwork to those in critical need of emergency services.  

Though there is a need, rural communities often face challenges when it comes to installing a broadband network. Many rural network providers have lean teams, small budgets and operate within largely undeveloped rural terrains – factors that present their own challenges to building a network infrastructure at all. There are also specific needs in rural areas, as some customers still require 2G and 3G speeds to use certain equipment. 

The numbers seem bleak, but it’s not unreasonable to believe that every U.S. citizen should have access to high-speed broadband and a 4G/5G wireless connection. This will simply require a commitment from the federal government to prioritize that need, and partnerships with innovative technology companies that can reliably meet the needs of rural America. The focus should be on making smart decisions to provide the best, most advanced equipment to solve the problem of inconsistent connectivity across a huge swath of the country, rather than policymakers derailing the existing pace of the race toward 5G. It is important to remember that affordable 4G connectivity that provide substantial benefits to rural America in the short term. Policy should not trump consumer needs.  

The U.S. has a positive track record of demonstrating how federal policy can shape technological access for its citizens, in the form of the Rural Electrification Administration (REA). Created by President Roosevelt in 1935, the REA was tasked with bringing electricity to rural communities across the U.S., with an incredible rate of success; 90 percent of the country had electricity by 1955. A great example of a federal investment strategy that propelled America into a long period of prosperity thereafter. 

Ensuring that rural communities can thrive is essential for the overall health of the U.S. economy, and their success is directly linked to their access to modern technology. Broadband connectivity is so tied to the day to day functions of modern life it can affect everything, from housing to public health. Having access to high-speed broadband may seem like a modern luxury, but in rural communities where populations live hours away from the nearest metropolitan area, it is a necessity to stay connected to the modern world. 

Leaving rural communities behind technologically will widen the already existing disparity between rural and urban communities. While building network infrastructure can be challenging, bringing 4G/5G to even the most remote locations is an achievable goal. To make this happen, people need the support of their government and the ability to partner with companies that can reliably meet their needs. 

The health of rural communities is highly relevant to the health of the entire U.S. Embarking on a country-wide rural 4G/5G project would be both ambitious and expensive, but the cost of allowing rural communities to fall behind technologically would be far greater. It is up to the federal government to prioritize them and allow these communities to establish the technological connectivity they need to survive. 

About Huawei

Huawei is a leading global information and communications technology (ICT) solutions provider and the world's second largest smartphone manufacturer. The company operates in more than 170 countries and regions. Huawei provides innovative and secure telecoms network equipment and smartphones to more than three billion people around the world.