February 25, 2016
Spotlight: Mediacom Is Bringing a Rural School In Alabama Up to Speed
For those who live and work in a metropolitan area, you probably don’t think twice when others around you stream videos, download hundreds of pages worth of documents, and share large amounts of data with others near and far. Living in or near a densely populated city has its advantages, and one of them is easy access to high-speed internet. But what about those far-reaching places that aren’t as easy to connect? How do they access fast broadband in a world that depends on constant connectivity?
Mediacom, an Internet, phone and TV provider based in New York, has been a staple in rural America, bringing high-speed connectivity and innovation to remote areas. Over the past four years, Mediacom has invested more than $1 billion to operate, expand, and upgrade its broadband infrastructure. That translates to a reach of 1,500 communities across 22 states.
Mediacom is driving innovation into small communities, said Tom Larsen, the senior vice president of PR and government relations. “While our peers are doing the same, they are doing so in the larger markets. But we provide the same level of service and connectivity to the most rural parts of the Midwest. We serve these areas almost exclusively.” The level of connectivity that Larsen speaks of has a societal impact on everything from education and telemedicine to farming. Larsen, Dan Templin, the senior vice president of Mediacom Business, and Kristi Salmon, the senior director of marketing, divulged a little bit about how Mediacom expands its reach and gets to know where the areas of development are in remote communities.
“It really comes down to having good relationships with the communities–the schools, the hospitals, those who come to say we need more broadband,” said Salmon.
One of Mediacom’s projects involved bringing an Alabama school district’s broadband up to speed.
The Brewton School District, which resides in an area with a population of 6,000, reached out to Mediacom because the broadband the schools were operating on wasn’t advanced enough to conduct online testing for students, or to develop an e-learning curriculum. This meant the kids were seriously lagging behind their urban counterparts. One of the previous networks that the district had operated through was one the city had built, but the limited help (one IT director at the school) led to difficulties in managing and maintaining the network—like the time a truck hit a pole in town and the school’s connectivity went down for a month. Now with Mediacom at the helm, there is always someone available to monitor and perform maintenance. Mediacom was able to cut the district’s bill in half for a 100 mega fiber connection, as the previous providers had used antiquated technology that proved very costly to reach that level of bandwidth.
“For a school that is so rural like Brewton, and two and half hours away from any major city – to have that connection to the outside world—it puts the students on the same platform as one that’s in an urban setting,” said Salmon. Now kids can get online and take virtual field trips. “They can get a dialog on the aquarium, see a museum, or learn a foreign language with a university.”
Mediacom’s work in rural areas also expands to the agriculture and farming business. The team sees an opportunity to bring wireless services to farming communities by providing high-speed broadband to automated farm machinery. The proposed idea, also known as the John Deere project for its partnership with the leading agriculture machinery company, aims to help farmers better communicate, spot production issues in real time, and perform their farming duties more efficiently.
“The technology of farming and food production is moving as quickly as any other technology field,” said Templin. “In Carroll County, Iowa, for example, there are more machines than there are people, but many are starved for connectivity.”
It’s in these far-reaching places that are struggling to meet the demands of the communities and businesses they serve that Mediacom can make the most difference. “We don’t discriminate on the size of a community. We offer 150 megabits in every community we serve, and we’ll upgrade all those communities in the next three years,” said Larsen. Mediacom has also started the process of raising those speeds to 1 gigabit in a handful of Missouri communities, with more markets to follow in 2016 and 2017. “I think that’s unique to us – we prioritize our small communities alongside our large communities. We’ve made a living serving small communities when no one else wanted to.”