Marie Johnson

Bridging the Digital Divide: A Journey to Rural Oklahoma

Growing up in the bustling suburbs outside of Washington, D.C., accessing the internet was something I took for granted. I lived through the evolution of scratchy dial-up internet to today’s lightning-fast fiber broadband. I never thought about internet access or access in other parts of the country. It wasn’t until I embarked on my journey at USTelecom a year and a half ago that I began to learn about the challenges of deploying broadband in rural communities.

Over 60 million people in America live in rural areas, so I headed to Sulphur, Oklahoma, population 4,700, home to the Chickasaw Telephone Company, to better understand what it takes to deploy broadband in rural America. Founded in 1909 as a small rural telephone company in south central Oklahoma, the company now provides broadband to thousands. My host for this eye-opening experience was Larry Jones, a seasoned USTelecom member, who generously schooled me on the intricate world of rural broadband.

USTelecom members, like Chickasaw, are leading the way in connecting rural America. Broadband providers have made massive investments, including a record $102.4 billion in 2022, to build, expand, and upgrade our nation’s high-speed infrastructure.

Deploying broadband in rural America is an expensive and lengthy task. Like many communities in our nation’s heartland, the picturesque town of Sulphur, nestled amidst the Arbuckle Mountains, presents unique deployment challenges. The oldest mountain range in America means that digging through the soil is no simple task. Workers face solid rocks beneath the earth’s surface, making the process time-consuming and necessitating specialized, expensive equipment like rock saws. Sometimes, they can only get through 100 feet in one day because of the terrain. In an environment where rural customers are often spread out, progress might mean connecting only a handful of houses after miles of digging.

Chickasaw’s dedication to improving customer speed, reliability, and network performance is evident in its transition from copper to fiber. The commitment to laying fiber in a challenging landscape underscores the determination to bring high-speed connectivity to rural America.

USTelecom’s members have always gone above and beyond to serve their communities. They remain steadfast in their commitment to connecting all families and communities in rural America with high-speed broadband as quickly as possible.

As Larry Jones said, “Rural America needs the same economic, educational, health, and entertainment opportunities that urban America has.” Well said, Larry.