As we begin to enter the second round of virtual learning for both our children and myself we are faced with an issue that many others take for granted. One of our main problems that we battle with out here on the farm is proper access to the internet.
The biggest issue with this is our inability to stay current with our classes, do proper research, and interact with our teachers and professors. This isn’t a new problem, not by a long shot. We have been trying to get sufficient internet for five years. We could overcome these obstacles before by having in person classes and utilizing the free internet at the library and coffee shops. With the pandemic these options are no longer open to us.
We aren’t the only ones who have trouble with this either. There are many people throughout America who will be faced with the stress of having to figure this out. For years we have been discussing inequalities in internet access and how even access to slower internet leaves children at a severe disadvantage at school. Even the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development argued in 2016 that:
“Internet access, and particularly broadband Internet access, has become an important tool for taking full advantage of opportunities in education, employment, health, social services, and the production and dissemination of knowledge and digital content.” and that there are “long-term detrimental effects of constrained access to technology-enriched education.”1
Now that we are relying heavily on the internet for access to school services, services that should be accessible to everyone, these inequalities are even more glaringly obvious. According to NPR an estimates 12 million people are without internet access.2 This is a huge problem, especially since most of those 12 million people fall in the low income category so they are already at a disadvantage.
While we aren’t necessarily considered low income we fall into this category because we live in an extremely rural area and high speed internet isn’t available to us. At the moment we pay $160 every month for 100 GB of satellite internet, which “runs out” in 15 days if we are lucky, and often runs at speeds of only 2 MB per second. We are supposed to get 50 MB/sec but this is a rare occurrence, especially once the internet has “run out”. This means that for 15-20 days out of the month I, and my children, cannot access video conferences or view video content. Sometimes we cannot even load a website. If we need to download a program we either have to wait until our internet renews or spend several days waiting for it to download. This isn’t ok.
Even though the USDA agrees that increasing broadband access to the agricultural industry 3 is a necessity, even launching The American Broadband Initiative last year, little actual progress is being made. The initiative has made some strides and according to a June statement
“Through the ReConnect program, as of March 2020, the U.S. Department of
Agriculture (USDA) awarded over $744 million in funds to support more than 80 broadband projects benefiting more than 430,000 rural residents in 34 states”4
We have personally watched broadband wires being placed throughout our county with high hopes that they would soon be available to us. When we called the provider installing them we were vastly disappointed to learn that, while access ended 3000 feet from our property, bringing broadband access out to rural areas with lower population levels was not profitable enough for them and would not be occurring anytime in the near future. That is, unless we wanted to personally pay for it ourselves. That isn’t happening.
So while it doesn’t look like the internet situation for rural households will be solved anytime soon I will continue to fight the good fight for internet access for all. If we truly intend on being a leader to the rest of the world every single person in the US should have affordable and reliable access to high speed internet.
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