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Study Points to Steps Oklahoma Can Take to Improve Rural Broadband Internet Availability

A study of seven years' worth of data shows what states can do to improve broadband internet availability in rural areas.

OSU's Department of Agricultural Economics and Purdue University's Center for Regional Development teamed up for the study. OSU's Dr. Brian Whitacre told Oklahoma's Rural Broadband Expansion Council out of three broad policy categories, two really made a difference.

"The main policies that were more effective are the lack of restrictions and in-place state funds," Whitacre said.

The study found local restrictions on things like land use can lower broadband availability 2% to 3%, while having dedicated state funds can increase it 1% to 2%. A dedicated state broadband office may also help. Whitacre said Oklahoma has addressed none of those areas.

"A typical county in 2018 had about 72% rural broadband availability. We think if they could put specific policies in place — in particular, removing a municipal restriction if they have it and putting in that state-level funding program — that would take them up to about 77%," Whitacre said.

The broadband council will evaluate state and local policies that may hinder rural broadband internet access at a future meeting.

According to Federal Communications Commission estimates, almost 95% of Americans had access to broadband internet in 2018. In rural areas, that dropped to 78%.

Matt Trotter joined KWGS as a reporter in 2013. Before coming to Public Radio Tulsa, he was the investigative producer at KJRH. His freelance work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and on MSNBC and CNN.
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