A Third of Oklahomans Lack a Choice for Broadband Service

According to a Federal Reserve report, roughly one in three residents have fewer than two providers to choose from. There are, however, few legal barriers to installing broadband in underserved areas.

by DAle Denwalt, The Oklahoman / August 9, 2019
Shutterstock/Jakub Krechowicz

(TNS) — Oklahoma ranks 47th for broadband connectivity, highlighting how rural areas struggle with access to high-speed Internet.

A report from the Kansas City branch of the Federal Reserve showed Oklahoma also lags behind nearby states for competition among providers. About one in three Oklahomans have fewer than two providers to choose from.

The average Internet speed, however, is near the top of the seven states within the Kansas City Fed's regional borders.

Policymakers widely believe poor access to broadband hurts education opportunities, healthcare access and economic development. A recent study by the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, for example, found that “rural electric cooperative members are missing out on nearly $70 billion annually” because they lack high-speed Internet.

Jeremy Hegle and other researchers at the regional Fed heard the same thing while preparing the report. He recalled a quote he heard from a roundtable participant from a rural community.

"She said, 'We want to attract employers and retain our young people. But employers need broadband, and young people want Netflix.' And I think that does put it into perspective," said Hegle, senior community development adviser.

Governments are trying to fix the problem, which requires massive amounts of costly infrastructure in far-flung parts of the state, something that's cost-prohibitive for many private companies.

The Federal Communications Commission has assigned $113.6 million in support over the next 10 years to help wire rural Oklahoma.

"There are some examples in Oklahoma where, because of that high cost we see in rural communities that are a barrier for the for-profit companies, government agencies and municipalities are starting to try to fill that void," Hegle said.

For years, the city of Tuttle fought to keep a high-speed Internet provider. Private companies were courted but no one made the commitment. Frustrated city officials finally decided to build their own, and are close to finishing the Tuttle Fiber project.

The rollout began in 2017, and service will be available to everyone by next year. Residents are responsible for about one-fourth of the cost, which includes an installation fee of $240.

Despite Oklahoma's poor Internet infrastructure, the Fed's report shows few legal barriers to installing broadband in underserved areas.

"While there aren't a lot of barriers, it still requires a lot of funding," Hegle said. "I do think something that's positive is that the barriers to an Internet service provider, from a regulatory perspective, are pretty low in Oklahoma. And that is a bit of a head scratcher."

©2019 The Oklahoman. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Platforms & Programs