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Illinois Country Living

October 2007 Issue: FeatureCommentaryCurrents SafetyGardenEnergy SolutionsFinest CookingMore

Better Broadband Service for Rural Illinois
Broadband is the next step in improving opportunities in rural Illinois

Ben Kiningham

Ben Kiningham

Why is broadband service to rural areas important? It is the next key step in communications for business, government and citizens in all of Illinois.

As a retired radio broadcast news reporter reflecting on my life in the prairie state, I appreciate the modernization of technology, which can yield productivity, efficiency, and yes, even security.

One of my very first interviews as a reporter in Springfield was with a 100-year old Catholic nun. I asked her what the most important invention or development was during her lifetime. She responded it was light that allowed her to continue her school studies at night in the family log cabin.

The wonderful work of electric cooperatives in Illinois and across the nation has resolved lighting issues for rural homes, schools and offices.

As a Springfield youth off to a cousin's home near Bement, I recall a funny telephone ring that I'd never heard before: long and short bursts of the ringer. Then I learned that all of the neighbors could pick up and listen to whomever you talked with. Wow.

My dial telephone at home didn't share calls with the neighbors and we had privacy.

While in college at Southern Illinois University, telephone service to Carbondale was not modernized. High-quality phone lines just were not available until years later.

When Anna-Jonesboro got direct distance telephone dialing, it was during the time when President John Kennedy was shot and killed in a Dallas, Texas motorcade. Our university, like most others all across the nation, closed. I took off to work at the radio station in Union county and found the manager, Don Michel, on the phone. He had direct-dialed the Dallas police department and when the captain got on the phone, he released the name of Lee Harvey Oswald, whom they had been questioning. Michel released the name to United Press International (UPI) and Oswald's name shot around the world, swiftly, thanks to a direct-dial phone call.

By the way, UPI and other news services could only disperse their news reports in the 1960s over phone lines using noisy mechanical teletype machines.

Jump forward into the 1970s and technological improvements sped my ability to report the news from the Illinois Capitol. Costly and high-speed computer phone lines allowed me to "grow" my audio reports with the "voices" of the newsmakers to more than 50 radio stations all across Illinois and neighboring states with immediacy, very improved audio quality and better understandability.

Today, that technology is expanding from cities into rural America.

It has always been good, competent electrical service now backed with wireless telephones, cell phones and a growth in broadband services for improved communication that opens the door for increased and improved growth in rural regions of the state.

While I live in rural Illinois, not far from the state capital, I can only access the Internet slowly. The cost of connecting to the rest of the world with broadband access is very costly. It can take anywhere from 10 minutes to more than a half hour just to receive a photograph picture on a slow Internet connection.

Now retired, I have second thoughts about the expense, availability and connectivity of broadband and its importance. Is a child able to use computer connectivity at home, after school, to do research for homework? Can a senior afford to communicate with family, their doctor or medical provider efficiently? What must rural businesses, farmers and yes, we citizens across rural Illinois, do to reach communication equality with those in the larger cities?

I praise U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), Illinois Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn and the many lawmakers who are working to open the broadband door to rural areas. It is economically sound policy. The availability of high-speed digital communications will open the door for improved safety, community development, higher educational opportunity and healthcare improvement opportunities.

The opinions and views of guest commentators are their own and may not represent those of the Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives or the electric co-ops of Illinois.

© 2007 Illinois Country Living Magazine.
Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives

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