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Rural US towns – left out by broadband – build their own

More than 300 communities consider launching local high-speed Internet service.

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When Lisa Shuman went looking for a resort to celebrate her 15th wedding anniversary, she did what many people do: She turned on her home computer and searched the Internet.

But out here amid the corn and soybean expanses of central Illinois, going online can be about as fun as pulling weeds. "I wanted to give up," says Mrs. Shuman, who lives on a farm a mile from town and uses a dial-up connection. She washed dishes and folded laundry while Internet pages trickled down across the phone line.

Slow. Expensive. Unreliable. These are complaints of many rural residents about their Internet service. But for small-town America, the problem is bigger than mere inconvenience. Increasingly, leaders in rural communities are coming to believe that access to high- speed Internet is tied to their towns' future survival. They're becoming less patient with telecommunications companies, which they say have lagged in providing the service their residents need at a price they can afford.

"Sometimes these big companies don't think it's worth their effort to come into towns like ours with the latest and best technologies," says Ann Short, Sullivan's mayor. "But we have needs. And we're deserving."

Tired of waiting, the town of Sullivan plans to start its own high-speed Internet network this summer, using a combination of fiber-optic cable, wireless transmitters mounted on water towers, and Internet signals sent over power lines. Mayor Short and other officials expect the system, which will cost half a million dollars, to give residents in and around Sullivan faster, cheaper, and more reliable service than private companies have provided. "We feel we can do it better," she says.

Many towns eye high-speed access

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