Companies hope Obama move will help other rural areas get broadband
By: Sarah Terry-Cobo The Journal Record July 16, 2015
OKLAHOMA CITY – Kerry Graves sees an opportunity to improve broadband Internet access in rural Oklahoma, especially in the southeast. The vice president of sales for transport and telecom solutions at Dobson Technologies began working with the Choctaw Nation last summer to install fiber-optic cables to connect tribal clinics, businesses and Southeastern Oklahoma State University.
President Barack Obama’s trip to Durant Wednesday brings more public attention to the issue, Graves said.
“We are excited that his initiative fits into our business plan to help underserved or unserved people,” he said. “For our industry, it helps educate the public to understand why people need faster bandwidth.”
The commander-in-chief announced at Durant High School the federal ConnectHome initiative. The project will connect low-income households in the Choctaw Nation and 27 other communities across America to the Internet. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will establish public-private partnerships to improve affordable, broadband access to more than 275,000 homes nationwide, according to a fact sheet the White House released Wednesday.
Barry K. Moore, a rural telecom lobbyist with consulting firm BKM Group, said he agrees that every person should have affordable Internet service, like any other utility. But he said the president’s initiative shouldn’t duplicate existing infrastructure. HUD should work with local companies to determine if fiber-optic cables and other equipment exist to keep program costs low, Moore said.
In general, it’s more difficult and costly to build infrastructure in sparsely populated areas than in dense, urban neighborhoods. Companies need a large number of customers to make service affordable, Moore said.
Graves said that’s why Dobson partners with the Choctaw Nation and with Broken Bow-based Pine Telephone Co. to reach more customers and expand Internet access. His goal is to recoup Dobson’s costs over a longer time period, so high-speed broadband services are affordable enough that many new customers will sign on, he said.
“As you get more and more people using it, they will continue to need more bandwidth, which will eventually lower costs,” Graves said.
Dobson began laying fiber-optic cable in the Durant area in the summer of 2014. The company connected the tribe’s medical clinics, Defense Department and casino. It lets health care providers quickly share medical records with clinics in McAlester, and allows the government to transfer secure files.
Graves said he sees more opportunity to expand in southeastern Oklahoma in the near future, as well as across the Sooner State. In the last four years, Dobson spent more than $30 million to bring broadband connections to rural areas.
“You’ll see everyone increase those opportunities for Internet access in the next five years, that will increase competition and drive down the price,” Graves said.