[imgcontainer left] [img:IQ510715268.jpeg] [source]Chris Beckman[/source] An Iowa law student set out to document the state’s courtrooms. His photos capture the mystery and beauty of what is often the most magnificent room in a rural county. You can read more about Chris Beckman and see more of his photos here. The is from the Buena Vista County courthouse in Storm Lake, Iowa. [/imgcontainer]

In a compromise completed Thursday (which may well be passed this weekend), Congress has agreed to auction public airwaves now reserved for television broadcasts. The sale will create more room for wireless Internet connections.

The extra spectrum will allow faster downloads in areas that are now jammed with people downloading on to their phones and iPads. But the extra spectrum may also make Internet broadband connections more available in rural America.

The Times has a good story on the politics of the deal. (Money from the sale, about $25 billion, will “pay for” the payroll tax cut.) But what will the sale of this spectrum mean for rural America?

Chris Ziegler at The Verge says this will be good for rural

The exact guidelines for the auction are yet to be laid out, but in brief, this means that key segments of spectrum below the existing 700MHz band — currently occupied by television stations — will have the option of relinquishing their licenses.

In turn, they’d receive a portion of proceeds as the licenses are taken to market and sold to carriers, who will refarm the spectrum for additional mobile broadband. The FCC has been making noise about the impending “spectrum crunch” for years, and underused (and unused) television licenses had long been seen as a potential refuge — particularly since they occupy high-quality spectrum that can travel long distances without repeaters.

That’s good news for rural areas, where lower frequencies are cheaper to deploy across low-density expanses. 

• Huge battle going on the end of this week to find votes to extend the federal Production Tax Credit for wind power production. 

The credit is due to expire at the end of this year. The last time that happened, in 2003, wind development dropped by almost 80 percent the next year, according to InsideClimate News. 

• Save The Post Office notes that the Postal Service has prepared a Programmatic Environmental Assessment for its plans to close thousands of post offices. The Postal Service says the move will affect 250 communities and will lay off 35,000 postal workers, but will have “no significant impact.”

STPO writes

The “environment” includes not just air quality, noise, land use, and waste disposal but also socioeconomic considerations, like the economic impacts on the community.  It’s hard to believe that the Postal Service thinks closing a large processing plant will have no significant impact on a community, and there’s not much in the report to support the claim, either.

• The Internet is killing the Postal Service, according to the Postal Service. So the Postal Service is closing post offices in the places where there is the least Internet connection. 

The Washington Post makes note of that craziness. Post reporters follow an earlier Reuters story finding that 80 percent of the 3,830 post offices under consideration for closing are in rural areas where the poverty rates are above the national average. 

And one-third of the post offices on the list for execution are in areas with limited or no broadband connection. Nationwide, 1.7 million people who live near a post office slated for closing have limited or no broadband connection.

“We’re not the ones in the big cities who are just e-mailing everything to everybody. We’re the ones that are actually still sending our Christmas cards and our birthday cards,” said Sarah Clyden, who runs a feed store in Oakwood, Oklahoma, where the agency is considering closing the post office.

“We’re targeting the wrong people,” said Mark Strong, president of the National League of Postmasters. “We probably should have taken a look to see if first of all they have Internet accessibility in their communities.”

• The Register’s Kyle Munson has a column on China vice president Xi Jinping’s visit to the Iowa farm of Rick Kimberley: 

Xi delivered some of his own coded signals, too: “We are so glad to see such a harmonious family,” he told the Kimberleys. (Grinnell College history senior and aspiring journalist Liyan Chen from China, who shared part of Thursday with me, savvily noted that “harmonious” has been a key buzzword for current Chinese President Hu Jintao’s ideology for building a growing middle class.)

The ritual gift exchange: The Kimberleys gave Xi a toy John Deere tractor, a T-shirt and an Iowa State baseball cap. (Kimberley is a Hawkeyes fan, too, he clarified, but the red ISU color scheme better fit the occasion.) The vice president handed over a heavy, ornate vase and linen tablecloth.

“This is away from the sound and the fury of the cities, and the air here is very fresh,” Xi remarked.

“This is a very homey environment,” he added. “I really enjoy it.”

Xi’s parting wish to Kimberley: “I hope that everything you plant this spring will have a good outcome at harvest.” 

• The House of Representatives passed a bill Thursday that would expand offshore drilling, open up parts of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling and force the Obama administration to grant a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline

• Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke says community banks (with assets less than $10 billion) have strengthened. The quality of loans these banks hold has stopped deteriorating, although the proportion of bad loans remains high.

Bernanke notes that low interest rates continue to be a problem for banks’ profitability. 

• A friend found a Kiplinger’s rating of the ten best cities for retirement. Knoxville, Tennessee, was included. The top selling point for the city was “superb scenery and music for a song.”  

The “biggest drawback” for Kiplinger’s was that the city was “More Appalachian than urban.”

Funny, we thought that was an advantage!

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