Ventures in the News

Will Latency Be the Next Rural/Urban Digital Divide?

February 14, 2024


CNIXP, a 50/50 joint venture between Connected Nation and a Newby Ventures entity, and Brent Legg of Connected Nation were featured in this telecompetitor article.

by Joan Engebretson

The U.S. is at risk of experiencing a new type of rural/urban digital divide, said stakeholders at the RTIME conference in Tampa on Monday.

“Latency is becoming the new currency,” said Brent Legg, executive vice president of
Connected Nation, a non-profit focused on carrier neutral internet exchange points. Legg was one of three panelists on a session about Middle Mile Needs and Internet Exchange Facilities.

The root of the problem is that only 57 U.S. cities have internet exchange points, requiring providers serving customers outside those areas to transport traffic to one of those 57 cities to exchange traffic with the network operator and/or content provider at the opposite end of the connection.

This adds latency, which means that internet users outside the 57 cities will have an inferior user experience in comparison with those in the 57 cities. And this issue will become increasingly important as applications that require low latency gain in popularity. Legg cited augmented reality, virtual reality, autonomous systems, and drones as examples of low-latency applications.

“We can’t have one type of experience in urban areas and a different experience in rural areas,” said Legg.

The solution, panelists said, would be to exchange more traffic outside the 57 cities.

“In the next five to ten years, the world changes,” predicted another panelist — Jeff Gavlinski, CEO of Mountain Connect, which provides information to communities pursuing broadband to help the communities in making decisions.

“If we could figure out strategic aggregation points, people could use and adopt [modern] technologies,” he said.

Connected Nation aims to do just that. The organization has set a goal of establishing 125 carrier neutral internet exchange points in Tier 2 and 3 markets and has begun to make progress toward that goal.

In January, Connected Nation won $5 million from the state of Kansas to establish an internet exchange point in Wichita.

The Role of the Middle Mile

Middle mile networks also will be an important part of the solution, said the third stakeholder on the RTIME panel, Sachin Gupta, who is director of business development for CentraNet, a broadband provider serving rural Oklahoma.

Even if internet exchange points are distributed more broadly, traffic from rural areas will still need to travel a substantial distance to reach the nearest exchange point – and as traffic grows, those networks will need plenty of capacity. Gupta aims for middle mile networks to support a minimum of 800 Gbps, and sometimes 1.6 Tbps.

He and other panelists expressed concern, however, about whether government funding will be made available to cover some of the costs of deploying middle mile networks in rural areas.

“We can explain to the state broadband office why the middle mile is needed,” Gupta said. “But elected officials may not want to spend the money there,” he said.

Politicians, he said, would prefer to fund last-mile deployments so that they can tell voters that they brought broadband to a specific number of locations.

Legg encouraged rural providers in the audience to advocate for funding for internet exchange points and for middle mile networks, noting that such infrastructure can generate significant benefits for providers and their communities.

“We can’t do this without you,” said Legg.

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