Missourians and Mobile Technology: What’s At Stake Now and In the Future?
By Mike Ferguson
Can Missouri move to an information and technology-based economy?
Probably not right away, but the way states use or get left behind the latest technology will likely determine economic growth impact very soon.
Supporters of the MO Broadband Now initiative say that’s way Missouri is justified in spending over $200 million to put broadband access throughout the state. Much of that funding is from the federal stimulus act and includes adding wireless broadband service in some rural areas.
AT&T Missouri President Jon Sondag, in a recent appearance on “Missouri Viewpoints,” said it’s not just about getting YouTube videos or Facebook updates faster.
“You have to look at the economic development benefits. Whether it’s education, health wise, a lot of things that will help Missourians that will come from this bandwidth and broadband once it’s deployed throughout the state.”
So, why are taxpayers in urban and suburban areas that already have broadband access paying for the service of those in rural areas? In strictly a private-sector equation, broadband may not be installed in low-population areas anytime soon because of the high cost and low customer base.
While his company decided against taking federal funds for the broadband projects, Sondag understands why the public investment is being made.
“When you put bandwidth out into rural areas, those small businesses then have the opportunity to compete with business in St. Louis, Kansas City, New York, you name it.
“It gives them an opportunity to compete and grow jobs, grow more of a tax base in Missouri and, I think, the entire state will benefit from that.”
In addition to allowing businesses access to faster internet and more bandwidth, Sondag says the future of education and healthcare will change as access is increased.
“Utilizing a wireless technology and the bandwidth that’s available today, you can go – actually from your home – you’ll be able to monitor some of your vital signs, you’ll be able to transmit data to not only your doctor’s office but, I think, also from there to whatever health clinic…”
In other words, let specialists anywhere in the world keep an eye on you without an expensive trip to the Mayo Clinic.
“Experts are not always located in St. Louis, Sedalia, Kansas City. They may be in London.”
When it comes to education, Sondag believes broadband and wireless connectivity offer Missouri the chance to improve today’s students’ ability to compete for tomorrow’s jobs.
“We will be able to bring qualified teachers, not physically but you’ll be able to bring them virtually. I think you’ll be able to expand the research that students today are getting.
“I think that will help to get them more educated, more prepared for the future jobs that I think are going to rely and depend on the math, the engineering and technology.”
While technology companies prepare for the future marketplace, Missouri’s broadcasters want access to those mobile devices.
Also on the episode of “Missouri Viewpoints”, Emmis Communications Vice President John Beck warns against leaving current broadcast technology out of the mobile device discussion.
The NAB wants a device that’s likely in your cell phone already to be activated. The “FM Chip” is built in to the mobile phones but is deactivated by cell service providers in the US. The chips, if activated, would basically let you use your phone as a radio so you can tune into your local radio station in the event of an emergency.
You may think you can do that already. You can’t. You can listen to your local radio station on your phone but that’s through an internet-based app.
Beck says it’s not the same thing and it could even be dangerous because storms easily knock over cell towers and cellular service. Knocking the local radio signal off the air, though, doesn’t happen as often.
“They’re (radio signals) are all on towers, all the towers have back-up towers…and they’re all backed up with generators. And the studios themselves are backed up with generators. The cell system isn’t built for that.”
That means when both the cell tower and the primary radio tower are lying on the ground, you’ll still be able to tune in to the radio station but that app on the phone will be useless.
“93-percent of the public is still listening to free, over-the-air radio.” Beck explains in the interview. “And we’re being left off this platform.”