5G, the Digital Divide, and a Cooperative Response

In many of our conversations with people in the community about the ArlFiber project, we are often asked why we are focusing on fiber when everyone else is talking about the coming 5G wireless resolution.

As we point out in our FAQ, fiber is the only “future proof” telecommunications technology out there, insofar as one need only change out the equipment used to light it. In that regard, fiber to the home will remain the gold standard for the foreseeable future. Moreover, one version of 5G (the one using millimeter wave spectrum) will need a lot of fiber just to operate effectively, so that particular 5G future would be paved in lots and lots of fiber.

What is not really addressed in all the hype over 5G, though, is the nagging issue of access: where will it be deployed, for whom, and for how much (and with what kind of data caps)? We know that the telecoms’ prevailing practice in these matters is to cherry pick the best areas with the highest density and throw everyone on the margins to the wolves. In that regard, new technology is nice, but without the right policies and institutions, the benefits of those technologies will be unevenly experienced and will do nothing to change the status quo – points well made by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance in the following fact sheet:

While it may not be as sexy as 5G, fiber is being used by communities all over the country to finally bridge the digital divide between and within communities and provide blazingly fast internet for very affordable prices to residents and businesses that had long been left out in the cold by the corporate telecom monopolies.

One great example of this is RS Fiber, which is a broadband cooperative that was set up in rural Minnesota to bring high-speed internet to farms and rural residents with seemingly impossibly distances between customers.

NBC profiled RS Fiber last year in a great segment about 5G and the persistent problems of the digital divide:

Our hope with ArlFiber is to create a (sub)urban cooperative that accomplishes the same. With their monopoly pricing power, Verizon and Comcast have left too many of our neighbors and local businesses behind or with no other option than slow, overpriced service. We can end that. Join us!

Published by arlfiber

A coalition of your Arlington neighbors is advocating for the creation of a community-owned internet service provider to provide faster, lower-cost internet service that will respect our privacy, commit to permanent net neutrality, and strive for digital equity.

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