The Rural Telecommunications Working Group


Rural development in the 21st century will be closely tied to the effective use of new and emerging information technologies. Communities with a poorly developed information technology infrastructure will be unable to generate attractive employment opportunities and retain existing businesses and residents. Indeed, given the declines in traditional rural industries such as agriculture and manufacturing, many analysts believe that the best hope for full participation in the national and global economies lies in the development of small manufacturing and service firms that produce custom products for niche markets. The success of these businesses will be closely tied to the quality of their information technology systems.

Unfortunately, mere access to information technology will not guarantee a more equitable and just pattern of development in rural areas. In fact, technology can be used to reinforce existing inequalities. In light of these issues, there is a pressing need to specify those conditions under which information technology can make a positive contribution to economic and social well-being.

The Rural Telecommunications Working Group (RTWG) was comprised of faculty, extension associates and graduate students at Penn State sharing a common research interests in these issues and in local conditions and contexts that, in combination with broadband access, may yield equitable and sustainable community and economic development in rural areas.

The group has been particularly interested in what it sees as practical e-readiness indicators that are applicable at the community level based upon four primary determinants or 4C's of access: context, connectivity, capability, and content. These ideas are further developed in the papers and materials available below. The group is also interested in the role that rural schools may play in leveraging financial, material and educational resources to introduce broadband access across large segments of rural communities.

RTWG Working Group Members

  • Theodore R. Alter - Professor of Agricultural, Environmental, and Regional Economics
  • William Lowe Boyd - Batschelet Chair Professor of Educational Leadership, Associate Director, Center on Rural Education and Communities
  • Jeffrey Bridger - Senior Research Associate, Penn State Extension
  • Woody Kerkeslager – Then Mayor of Madison, NJ and CEO of Information Futures, LDD.
  • Sheila S. Sager – Then Ph.D. candidate in the Mass Communications Program
  • Kai A. Schafft - Associate Professor, Education Policy Studies, Director, Center on Rural Education and Communities
  • Dr. Jorge Reina Schement - Distinguished Professor of Communications and Co-Director of the Institute for Information Policy
  • Bill Shuffstall - Senior Extension Educator
  • Marsha Ann Tate – Then Ph.D. candidate, College of Communications and a graduate fellow in the Institute for Information Policy.

Papers and Research

Getting Connected: Broadband Services a Key to a Vibrant Rural America
Theodore Alter, Jeffrey Bridger, Sheila Sager, Kai Schafft, and William Shuffstall
In this policy brief we begin by discussing the role of business class broadband service in rural America´s economic future – and the importance of making this service available in communities across the country. We then discuss current domestic broadband policy and how barriers to demand aggregation have limited business class broadband penetration into rural areas. Following this, we describe an alternative broadband delivery model that decouples broadband infrastructure from broadband service provision, providing a platform that can provide affordable business class and residential broadband services to rural communities. Finally, we suggest how telecommunications can be incorporated into a broader place-based rural policy framework.
Full text paper (PDF from Rural Realities Volume 2 Issue 1)

Bringing the Community Along: A Case Study of a School District’s Information Technology Rural Development Initiative.
Kai A. Schafft, Theodore Alter and Jeffrey Bridger
In this paper, we draw on an interactional approach to analyze the relationship between information technology and local development through a case study of a rural school district in Pennsylvania which has used state of the art information technology infrastructure in a broad-based community and economic development effort.
From the Journal of Research in Rural Education Volume 21 Number 8)

Rural Telecommunications Bibliography.
Marsha A. Tate
This document is an annotated bibliography of sources related to rural telecommunications. Over 150 pages in length, it covers documents and sources dating back to the early 1980's, and has been revised and updated through February 2005.
Full text paper (PDF)

The Fate of Rural America in the Information Age: An Introduction and Preliminary Application of the 4C's Theory.
Marsha A. Tate and Sheila S. Sager
Using data gathered for five rural counties in North Dakota and Pennsylvania, this paper frames rural high-speed Internet access in terms of the 4C's theory: context, connectivity, capability, and content. Our analyses suggest that there are significant variations between the two states and among individual counties. Despite these variations, in order to sustain socio-economic success, each of the 4C's must be considered both individually and collectively.
Full text paper (PDF)
Poster (PDF)

Community Broadband Access: It's More Than Infrastructure Stupid.
Marsha A. Tate and Sheila S. Sager
This PowerPoint presentation discusses the scope of the 4C's Theory in developing practical e-readiness indicators applicable at the community level, based upon four primary determinants of access.
PowerPoint Presentation (PDF)