Rural America needs high-speed internet. Fewer rural Americans go online (69%) than their urban neighbors (75%), and more rural residents (39%) lack access to broadband than urban Americans (4%). In an information-driven and data-rich economy, any geographic region that is not properly equipped to keep up with the pace of knowledge or communication will fail to maintain its economy, healthcare resources, educational institutions, and entertainment services.

Policymakers across the political spectrum recognize the problem. In January 2018, President Trump signed two executive orders to clear the way for broadband and rural fiber technology. That same year, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey signed legislation that offered grant money for telecommunications companies to build network infrastructure in rural areas of her state. Georgia and Mississippi soon followed suit. 

But these initiatives have not addressed rural America’s key concerns with access to powerful, affordable high-speed internet. Namely, what technologies work best and who would control them?

The Promise 5G Held for Rural America

The advent of 5G wireless initially excited policymakers and commentators concerned about rural connectivity. There was reason for enthusiasm: The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) proclaimed the advent of 5G would finally bring broadband to rural America. 

For one thing, 5G’s small cells are infinitely easier to work with than the massive towers required for existing 4G technology. For another, 5G offers more options. Steven Berry, president & CEO of the Competitive Carriers Association, testified before Congress that 5G Internet of Things (IoT) narrowband technology could serve as one possible network solution. Narrowband technology reaches up to 10 times further than existing LTE technology, making it more useful and cost-effective. 

But other experts were more cautious. Some warned that implementing 5G technology would take at least a decade given the low priority telecommunications companies assign to rural communities. It was not long before more experts recognized the realities and limitations of 5G as a solution for rural America’s internet access and network speed issues.

In late 2018,’s lead analyst Sascha Segan wrote, “Rural Americans desperately want better home internet options. Many are dependent either on slow DSL, limited 4G, or unreliable satellite service. 5G will help the issue, but it isn’t clear how much.” 

As it turns out, not as much as the more optimistic futurists had hoped.

Why 5G Might Not Be the Right Solution

Lawmakers from states with large rural sections showed concern right from the beginning. 

“It’s entirely possible that I don’t understand how 5G works,” Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri said during legislative hearings on the topic. “But from what I do understand, it seems likely that 5G would be even more slowly implemented in rural America than what we’re doing now.” 

The Missouri legislator put his finger squarely on the issue. While 5G helps solve many national security and economic advancement issues, it’s nearly impossible to implement 5G wireless technology across rural America in a reasonable timeframe. 

For 5G wireless to provide uninterrupted coverage, small cells have to be placed every 0.03 square miles. Plus, to manage the data load from 5G wireless, existing fiber cables would have to be retroactively densified. These installations and upgrades are possible in densely populated small towns, but not in the rural or unpopulated areas around them. 

5G’s best hope is to serve as a complement to a deep fiber network, which would provide high speeds and carry voluminous data loads without relying on cells placed hundreds of feet away from residential or commercial property.

Fiber Optic Cable for Rural America

Some observers now claim that fiber optic cable is beating out 5G wireless technology as a solution for high-speed internet and long-distance or remote applications. Could long-distance fiber technology offer a solution for rural America’s internet access problem? Absolutely. Here’s how (and why): 

1. Fiber Optic Cable Relies on Existing Small-Town Wireless Towers

T-Mobile, AT&T, and other communications giants have built cellular towers in many small towns across the U.S. Updating these structures with 5G wireless infrastructure will serve densely populated areas. Deploying 5G through free cells in these areas will also prove cheaper than running fiber optic cable. However, deployment of 5G technology beyond these areas will require too many free cells to be technologically or economically feasible. 

Fiber optic cable solves the technological issue by offering much more stable connections than free cells would. The next question, though, is how to string rural fiber technology over miles of American heartland without exhausting the American bank. The answer may lie in rural electric cooperatives. 

2. Connect Cable to Co-op

Many rural American communities are exploring multi-strategy co-operative solutions. Tri-County Rural Electric Cooperative in Mansfield, PA worked with its members to get $33.5 million in federal and state grants to string long distance fiber optic cable, experiment with balloon solutions, and bring in drones. The Rural Independent Network Alliance (RINA) Wireless is another co-op group helping to bring 5G functionality to rural areas through a variety of infrastructure options.

Is Long Distance Fiber Optic Cable the Future of Rural Connectivity?

The future of rural America’s connectivity will not lie exclusively in either 5G wireless technology or fiber optic cable. It will also not rest entirely in the hands of state or federal lawmakers. Instead, technology, telecommunications firms, and policymakers will play more supportive than central roles, and the future of rural connectivity will sit squarely with solutions proposed and implemented by rural residents, activists, and governing bodies. 

Rural residents seem increasingly inclined to take matters into their own hands. There are three core reasons for this. First, no outside entity will prioritize internet access for rural residents. Second, more and more rural Americans understand the value network technology brings to their communities and lifestyles. Lastly, rural Americans are willing to experiment with the patchwork solutions, including long-distance fiber optic cable, that will be crucial over the next decade to solve rural America’s connection issues.

Slow internet speeds and patchy network access continue to plague rural America. But fiber optic cable is a promising step up from 5G wireless technology in offering solutions for high-speed internet for long-distance and remote applications.

Remee Wire & Cable Supports Fiber Optic Cable Runs

Remee is expert in the design and manufacture of fiber optic cable.  They make fiber optic cables to serve in a variety of applications, and can create bundled, composite, messengered and hybrid (with copper) cables for use in rural areas.  For the communities and companies that take the initiative to determine the best approach, Remee is here to assist with fiber optic cable runs.