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DSL Providers Abandoning Rural Areas

Believe it or not, you can't get high-speed Internet access in many areas across the country. Several small businesses in Northeast Vermont say productivity is suffering due to lumbering dial-up connections. A pair of dairy farmers who manage their payroll and other aspects of their business online say they can only reliably log on at around 4 a.m., a time when less bandwidth is being used. Instead of looking to upgrade its network in this remote area, Verizon, the local phone company, is looking to sell the 1.6 million phone lines it controls in Vermont.

The move to sell is part of an internal plan called Project Nor'easter, which is basically a plan to give up many of the local landlines the company owns. Why? Because there aren't enough users in remote areas of the country to warrant the cost of a network upgrade. Instead, Verizon, AT&T and other telecom providers are focusing their attention (and dollars) on upgrading high-speed networks near cities, which hold a greater ROI prospect for them. Witness, then, the widening divide between the Internet's rich and poor: Our already high-speed networks in major cities across the country are poised for yet another upgrade, while rural areas are stuck in the Internet's slow lane.

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This comes at a time when a broadband connection is becoming more of a necessity to access the Web's content and services. Across the country, there is mounting evidence of major phone providers abandoning rural areas. In 2002, Verizon sold 1.3 million phone lines in Alabama, Kentucky, and Missouri. Most recently, Alltel spun off its local phone group, merging it with Valor Communications; and Sprint Nextel has also spun-off and renamed its network of 7.1 local phone lines. "We're not a Third World country. We shouldn't have to beg for service," exclaimed Maureen Connolly, a director at the Economic Development Council of Northern Vermont. "We have companies that lose money because they don't have broadband." So who will save the Internet's rural poor?

Read the whole story at The New York Times »

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