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FCC Announces Rural Broadband Auction

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OKLAHOMA CITY -

As high speed Internet becomes more of a necessity and less of a luxury, there's growing concern about the digital divide in rural Oklahoma. 

A new plan from the federal government is hoping to change that by making good on a promise years in the making. 

Announced late last month, the Federal Communications Commission said it's on a mission to give every Oklahoman a way to see the world with the click of a mouse and by bringing broadband internet to the rural parts of the state.

"Closing the digital divide to ensure all Americans have access to the Internet is the top priority of the FCC," FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said.

The plan is to auction off areas of the state to Internet providers, hoping market competition will help bring down the cost of laying the kinds of fiber optic lines needed to get the internet. 

Talk of the digital divide, or the difference between where people have access to the web and where they don't, is normally centered in inner cities. While it's important, OSU professor of agricultural economics, Brian Whitacre, said the divide in rural areas is more like a canyon. 

"Only 4 percent of urban America doesn't have that kind of connection. It's 39 percent of rural America. It's a big gap," Whitacre said.

Whitacre said in areas with new Internet access, they've seen improvements in a range of factors. Children learning more, friends and families reuniting and even a few online business through sites like Etsy.

"For education, income, social and civic engagement, all these things. If we have lower rates of broadband use in rural areas, they're just at risk for falling further and further behind," Whitacre said.

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