A project by some MPR colleagues recently looked at the value and necessity of high-speed Internet for everyone, including rural communities. As they put it:
High-speed broadband has been called the infrastructure challenge of the 21st Century, and the United States is often portrayed as trailing behind many other nations. How fast does Internet access need to be? Is providing it a government role, a marketplace question or something in between? How should people be encouraged to use it? How does it affect a community? The federal government is heavily involved; should the state be?
Never has this been more evident than in my own recent personal history. About a month ago my Internet, provided by Comcast, started to get sluggish once in a while. I thought it was just normal Internet hiccups, but then it became more regular. I pay around $80 a month for high-speed Internet, the 20/Mbps plan from Comcast. Right now I am speed testing at between 1 and 3.5/Mbps. That is atrocious, almost dial-up speed. I called tech support and we ran through everything and eliminated every obvious variable. To his credit, the Comcast tech support guy was very patient and tried everything he knew, to no avail. We settled on me trying to replace some cables and then calling back if that doesn’t work. I think it is the modem and that will be the next step.
However my point is that not having my readily available, high-speed Internet has shown me how much I, and I’m sure many others, rely on and take for granted the ability to surf, download and interact online. Outside of the personal luxuries of Facebook, Twitter, Netflix and Hulu, there are so many things that everyone should have access to that is currently relegated to those in big cities and for those that can afford it. Paying bills, online banking, applying for jobs, training and online education; those are just a few of the things that are more easily accessed with high-speed Internet. Access to those things should not be cordoned off for the more fortunate, especially when that access would have a higher benefit return for those less fortunate.
In this day and age, when the Internet is an everyday part of life, it feels more and more that the infrastructure for broadband and the access for the public should be a utility as readily available and easy to access as water and electricity. I know I’m not the first to have that thought, but it’s just become so apparent in the last few days. How can that be accomplished? I’m not exactly sure. But I see a future where having high-speed Internet access is no longer luxury.
When I was in Thailand nearly 10 years ago, I traveled to my grandfather’s village about 10 hours northeast of Bangkok. They lived in small farming village that barely had electricity. However, you could take a scooter ride or catch a truck and in about 20 minutes be at an Internet café with fast Internet access (for the time) and take care of your business. While not ideal, even in the jungles of Thailand everyone could get access to a relatively fast connection that is probably better now. The fact that they can do it there and we don’t have it in every square corner of the U.S. now is almost embarrassing. And the fact that fixing my Internet is so problematic, even though I pay $80 a month, is also evidence of a deficiency in how we handle broadband access and service.
TL;DR version: Broadband and high-speed Internet should be everywhere in the U.S. Everyone should have it, and everyone should benefit from it.
Oh, and a postscript. Through whatever Internet magic they’ve created, even at the lowest bandwidth I’ve had, Netflix streaming on my PS3 has continued to work. Hulu Plus, not so much. So kudos to you Netflix and continuing to feed my addiction for TV series and obscure documentaries.