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Rural Users Get Bad Connection

The Hough family has farmed wheat on the Eastern Plains of Colorado for three generations. While their farm may be remote, R.M. Hough knows he cannot afford to be isolated, reports CBS News Correspondent Sandra Hughes.

Like many other rural farming families, Hough has become increasingly dependent on the Internet for agricultural information. It's the best way for him to keep up with grain prices and the futures market.

"The technology is changing in agriculture and we need to have access or we're gonna be left behind and not be able to compete with other farmers or other producers," he says.

But Hough has practically given up on the Internet. "Our access right now is a problem because of our phone line. We can't consistently get connected because of the modem speed on our rural line."

Not only are the antiquated phone lines slow, but the quality is so poor Hough keeps getting disconnected. "You go in and you can be sitting there reading something and (snaps fingers) you re off line."

Twenty miles down the road, in the town of Fort Morgan, the problem is the same for a group of small business people.

Kathy Schull of the Fort Morgan Chamber of Commerce says, "It has to do with basically everything we do with our economic base in the community, being able to either attract new business or keep our current businesses competitive and growing."

Some rural customers blame the phone company for pursuing big profits in the urban areas and ignoring rural customers. "We want to make sure that we don't get left behind and we don't become a state of haves and have-nots," says Schull.

U.S. West, which provides most of the telephone service to the rural West, blames the government for poor on-line service. Spokesman David Beigie says "There are crazy outdated rules that need to change. The Government said it would come up with funding to make sure rural customers would be taken care of -- that funding is not in place."

But FCC chairman William Kennard says the government has "been providing millions of dollars to companies like U.S. West to provide phone service in rural America. Now US West is rolling out advanced services in Phoenix. Why aren't they rolling out advanced services in towns like Fort Morgan?"

Nowhere is the problem more visible than at the Fort Morgan Department of Social Services, where a simple stopwatch shows the difference between the one government-donated high-speed connection and the regular dial-up service everyone else in town must use.

And those wasted minutes add up, slowing down small businesses like the one Vonnie Fehringer runs out of her home. "It's just not morally right," says Fehringer, "because my business is as important to me as the big boys."

So while the government and industry argue finances, much of rural America is finding itself disconnected from the fast lane of the information super-highway.

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