In my Scripps Howard column with Ben Boychuk this week, I argued for continued funding of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting largely on the basis that it's rural parts of the country that would suffer if services like NPR—with its in-depth news and coverage—disappear.
A story in today's New York Times kind of reinforces my point:
COFFEEVILLE, Ala. — After a couple of days in this part of rural Alabama, it is hard to complain about a dropped iPhone call or a Cee Lo video that takes a few seconds too long to load.
The county administrator cannot get broadband at her house. Neither can the sportswriter at The Thomasville Times.
Here in Coffeeville, the only computer many students ever touch is at the high school.
“I’m missing a whole lot,” said Justin Bell, 17. “I know that.”
As the world embraces its digital age — two billion people now use the Internet regularly — the line delineating two Americas has become more broadly drawn. There are those who have reliable, fast access to the Internet, and those, like about half of the 27,867 people here in Clarke County, who do not.
In rural America, only 60 percent of households use broadband Internet service, according to a report released Thursday by the Department of Commerce. That is 10 percent less than urban households. Over all, 28 percent of Americans do not use the Internet at all.
There are a variety of problems with this. As the Times notes, there are economic, medical, and education consequences to the lack of access to the modern world. But one of the problems is informational: “This is about whether rural communities are going to participate in our democratic society," one of the Times' experts says, and he's right. Which is why cutting funding for the CPB really is a bad idea! The residents of Coffeeville, Alabama can't so easily call up the New York Times or the Washington Post or BBC News on their computers. NPR probably offers a nice and vital window to the broader world that isn't easily found otherwise.