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Monday, August 26, 2013

When Does Real Broadband Come To Rural America? The Answer Better Include The Word 'Soon'

This post is in response to an excellent Wired article found here being discussed on Google+ right now.

The internet has passed from being a luxury to being a necessity. We use it to shop, pay bills, keep in touch, for entertainment, for learning, and to see the world. In those regards, it's no different than our highway or postal systems, both of which we regard as necessities.

Imagine if you had to travel overland between cities. Imagine how your produce would look if it came to you spoiled because of the time it took to get it to you because of a broken highway system.

If 30% of the US was without electricity or running water, we'd call it unacceptable, yet 70% with "broadband"* is considered acceptable because half of those without are in rural areas (The 2010 census shows 15% of Americans living in towns of 2500 or less or in no community at all).

I'm very familiar with this dichotomy. I live in extremely rural Georgia. Windstream is my telco ISP; no cable ISP or any other copper or fiber options. None. That leaves wireless, and as the article shows, stream one HD movie and you're done for the month. You would have to pay a couple thousand dollars per month in many cases to purchase the overage data allowance you would need to do things on a daily basis that most Americans never think about.

Satellite is no better than wireless as it again caps you at such a low level - 2GB - that  you'd only get through half of one HD movie and you'd be done for the entire month.

It's ridiculous, yet these companies are allowed to call these plans "broadband". The only plan Windstream offers in my area is 3Mbps down, 1Mbps up, and they almost never deliver that. Add to that that their 'packet loss' and 'jitter' are among the highest of any telco ISP and you can't even use a VOIP phone, play online games, watch online movies, or do anything that requires a rock-solid connection.

I've taken the matter up with my US Congressman, but despite being a Democrat, he's one of the handful of Blue Dogs left who take the side of Big Business over that of his constituents. 

The 'white space' ISP concept seems promising, but we're likely years away from seeing that...if it ever happens at all.

Imagine this scenario and see if you think it would be acceptable:  Having gotten tired of being unable to access the same services and products that urban- and suburban-dwellers can, farmers, wood-products producers, mined-minerals producers, energy producers all went on strike. Or maybe not a strike, just a slowdown. 

You go to the grocery, but there's no fresh locally-grown produce at all. Oh, your grocer bought some from abroad....at 40 times the price you'd been paying for the local stuff. Unacceptable?

You go to put gas in your car. Fortunately, you noticed the price per gallon before you started pumping. It went from about $4/gallon...to $160/gallon. Unacceptable?

You decide that driving isn't going to work, so you decide to upgrade your phone. You go to your wireless provider and pick out a phone, then find out that it's gone from $200 with a plan...to $8000...with a plan. Unacceptable?

If those things are unacceptable, how is it acceptable that those of us who bring you your food, your lumber, the rare-earth metals and other products that go into your phone, and your fuel have to do without the necessity that true high-speed internet is?

Unacceptable! But you can bet your ass it's coming, because rural Americans are pissed off!

*Broadband is a term the FCC allows to cover much more than what most of us would include in the word. My current Windstream "broadband" is 3Mbps down, 1 up. But I average half that. Wireless and satellite both advertise higher speeds, but give you an unrealistic data cap that averages half an HD movie. That's not broadband, that's an insult.