My high-speed internet…isn’t.
Starting a Zoom, Skype, WebEx or Google Meet at my house is like a countdown for a Space-X launch.
-All applications off? Check.
-Tabs closed? Check.
-All other family members off-line? (“No, Dad, I have a call!”) Not so check.
recent study by Broadband Now shows the actual number is more like 42 million. (Intuitively, that FCC number is low. Just ask yourself how many people you know have issues with broadband.)’ data-reactid=”37″>I’m hardly the only person suffering from inadequate internet of course. While the Federal Communications Commission likes to say that 21.3 million Americans, (or 6.5% of the population), don’t have broadband internet, a recent study by Broadband Now shows the actual number is more like 42 million. (Intuitively, that FCC number is low. Just ask yourself how many people you know have issues with broadband.)
a story by my former colleague, David Pogue, for CBS News: “The average download speed today [in the U.S.] is around 133 Mpbs. And what the FCC defines as broadband for downloading is 23 Mbps. It’s not very fast.” ” data-reactid=”38″>What exactly constitutes high speed internet these days? Good question. Certainly download speed of 1,000 megabits per second (Mbps)—or a gigabyte—is fast. And according to a story by my former colleague, David Pogue, for CBS News: “The average download speed today [in the U.S.] is around 133 Mpbs. And what the FCC defines as broadband for downloading is 23 Mbps. It’s not very fast.”
Got that right David.
I have my own definition of high-speed internet though: Two people, (or heaven forbid three), in one household, doing unimpeded video calls simultaneously without having to close tabs and applications. How many Americans have that? Not as many as the FCC thinks. Am I being whiney? No. This isn’t about birthday calls to grandma (although they’re important too), this is about work, school and other critical communication like telemedicine. That’s important.
First I left my apartment in New York with its 20 Mbps to 30 Mbps speed (now slower because of everyone WFH in my building), came to Maine in late March and right off embarked on a mad scramble to coax more capacity out of my connection (pleading calls to Consolidated Communications, asking neighbors for pointers, trying out different equipment.) But the real issue wasn’t me per se, it was our team and trying to connect all of them from their different locations. As we began broadcasting live from team members’ homes, we quickly realized broadband was our biggest problem.
All that opened my eyes, but it was just the beginning.
I noticed that I wasn’t the only one with slow broadband up here, when I went by the town hall and saw some kids huddled on the cold pavement near the front door of the office. What were these young people doing? Their homework. The digital divide was staring me right in the face.
I also noticed that bad broadband was a normal topic of conversation, like the weather. There were stories of elected officials having to go to neighbors’ homes to use slightly better WiFi for official business. Or a neighbor having to rent an office in town to use the internet. Or a Consolidated Communications employee telling a neighbor there is nothing he can do and the company is based far away and doesn’t care. Or another neighbor who says “the name ‘Consolidated Communications’ is because they consolidated all the bad stuff into one place.” (A competitor, Redzone Wireless, has a worse reputation in this town.)
But wait there’s more. In late May my younger daughter graduated from college and started her first full-time job. From this house. coordinating internet use became a critical feature of daily life, until she gave up and moved to Boston for a while to try her luck with the WiFi down there. (So much for attracting young people to the state with the oldest population in the U.S.)
“The thing everyone should understand about the current broadband crisis is that it would’ve been fairly normalized usage in a few years anyway,” says Ernesto Falcon, senior legislative counsel at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “Coronavirus increased demand by only 30% or 40%; it’s not like double or triple usage.”
But that acceleration has further exposed the yawning gap. “It’s a fundamental dividing line of inequality in America,” says Falcon. “You can’t participate in the economy or society at large without sufficient access.
I bet you can guess who’s getting left behind.
“It predominantly hits communities of color and rural communities the hardest,” Falcon says.
according to the Brattleboro Reformer. ‘ data-reactid=”63″>And I get that. The economics don’t work. Koester told me to mitigate that, Consolidated has been doing public/private partnerships for towns like mine, such as a project he worked on in Chesterfield, New Hampshire, population 3,500, which now has broadband speeds of up to 1,000 Mbps. “The total cost of the project is $4.3 million, with Consolidated putting up $2.5 million of its own money and the town bonding another $1.8 million,” according to the Brattleboro Reformer.
It’s ironic isn’t it, that politicians are so focused on the foibles of Big Tech, when most of the problems those companies engender are irrelevant to huge swaths of the population. “It’s easier to focus on things like privacy,” says Katie Jordan, senior policy advisor at the Internet Society, a group that advocates for expanding internet access worldwide. “The congressional members see issues with tech companies right in front of their eyes. If you’re sitting on Capitol Hill and have access to the internet, maybe every now and then it’s slow, but then you go back to living your entire life online. It’s hard for them to imagine life for someone who hasn’t had that access.”
But isn’t that the very core of being a public servant?
“We need to start treating this the same way we treat any infrastructure: water, roads, electricity. Government has to be involved,” says Falcon of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “Lots of legacy owners will oppose the transition. But they have to accept the transition has already happened. Most countries, including China, have adopted fiber efforts. We will see the world where average Chinese citizens have a 100 gigabit connection and we’re struggling with one one-thousandth of the speed. It will take years. The longer we wait to start, the more behind we are.”
This article was featured in a Saturday edition of the Morning Brief on August 8, 2020. Get the Morning Brief sent directly to your inbox every Monday to Friday by 6:30 a.m. ET. Subscribe‘ data-reactid=”73″>This article was featured in a Saturday edition of the Morning Brief on August 8, 2020. Get the Morning Brief sent directly to your inbox every Monday to Friday by 6:30 a.m. ET. Subscribe
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