The neglect of rural internet
It was the day after the primaries, and with the election too close to call, I was anxiously awaiting more results when my internet went out. A call to Century Link resulted in an automated recording informing me that the problem would be fixed later that evening. I was not alarmed, as our internet frequently goes out for short periods of time. This time, however, I was destined for a wait of 32 hours.
Due to the pandemic, we have three people in the house working from home. My brother had a deadline fast approaching, and my father could not attend important meetings. In urgent need of answers, we called customer support. First, the automated voice ironically informed me that we would get faster service if we contacted them via the internet. I was then sent to a call center in India. They had no clue what the problem was, so I was transferred to somewhere in Mexico. Since I am not fluent in Spanish, I was then sent to the Philippines, and it was assumed that I lived in Manilla. When I asked to speak to someone in the United States, I was told the wait would be “longer than ten minutes. But when I reached my destination in Omaha Nebraska, they were just as unhelpful, as they had no information other than that I was experiencing a service interruption.
The next day, after several more phone calls, numerous transfers, and several ridiculous explanations (a bad “network device”, a bad line in the office, or a software issue), all I knew was that something had gone wrong in the local internet junction box. I also discovered that another building, connected to the same box and suffering the same problem, had already had its internet restored. Nobody I spoke to had an explanation for why my internet took 24 hours longer to repair.
The fact of the matter is, as a resident in a rural community I am considered a low priority for telecommunication companies. There is simply not enough population density to provide a large enough profit for them to care. I have been told by technicians that the lines are in poor condition and need replacing, but nothing is done. My maximum band width remains at a dismal 1.5 Mbps, and without a standard of service, this type of neglect will continue.
The pandemic has emphasized that internet access is not a luxury. It is a necessity, and without it, residents lose their ability to communicate effectively. Without the internet, working from home is an impossibility, and remote learning is a farce. The lack of availability of high-speed internet results in discrimination against rural residents as well as poor residents who simply cannot afford it. This spring, college students without internet were told they could visit hot spots at restaurants in town. The thought of college students sitting in their cars with a laptop for hours at a time, sometimes late at night, is appalling.
Residents of cities take the internet for granted, often having a variety of choices for various internet speeds with different companies at different costs. Rural residents, meanwhile, suffer from having a single company offering slow speeds and poor service at high costs. Nationwide, only 39% of rural Americans have broadband access, compared to 96% in the cities. Rural residents drop farther and farther behind, unable to participate in our increasingly technology-based society.
With our country still in the grips of the pandemic, it is time to promote equal technology opportunity for all. Government intervention will be necessary to provide rural residents with the access they need. The internet should be treated as a public utility rather than a corporate monopoly in order to restore the same freedom of communication to rural and poor residents that the cities and the rich currently enjoy. And please, if call centers are a necessity, put them on American soil and give them some information that is at least marginally relevant.