Earlier this year, the University of Kansas got a Yamaha Disklavier piano that will enable students in poor, rural areas to participate in remote music lessons. Such pianos have powerful networking features that allow two or more instruments to be connected via the Internet by using Yamaha’s proprietary technologies.
Meanwhile, AT&T recently sealed a deal with the US government that will get them around $428 million annually to establish faster Internet in rural areas of America. AT&T will spend the money in Kansas and 17 other states, including: Wisconsin, Texas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Ohio, North Carolina, Mississippi, etc.
Hopefully, the deal will indeed make remote music lessons truly feasible. Moreover, it would be nice if such lessons eventually include other instruments like the acoustic guitar, or topics like home studio recording. Music gear guides that teach about turntables and other equipment will also be more easily accessed with a faster Internet.
The money that AT&T will be receiving for the next 6 years comes from the Connect America Fund, which in turn draws from surcharges on Americans’ phone bills. AT&T isn’t the only one to get funding — all in all, there were ten who were awarded $1.5 billion in yearly support. Even so, there’s still $175 million left to award.
In contrast, there seems to be a dearth of funding for schools. “I don’t have a music program. My music teacher is part-time because that’s all we can afford,” says Shannon Eubanks in a recent Mississippi public hearing. The hearing was held to debate on a proposed constitutional amendment that would fully fund the state’s education system.
What Eubanks said reminds of a news late last year about rural music programs resorting to grants to see another day. In South Dakota, music teachers say that they virtually have no money for buying and maintaining musical instruments. In the case at Kansas, corporate and non-profit organizations lend a hand in purchasing the piano.
That said, the Connect America Fund is more about building rural Internet infrastructure, and it helping enable remote music lessons is just a nice side effect. But the government should more efficiently distribute its funds. Music classes may not seem as important as commercial initiatives, but as a part of rural programs, they are nonetheless critical.