Today the Internet seems to predominate society. One can open a browser conduct research, play games, watch videos, participate in social media, and much more. Many seem to take it for granted. However, what about those who are not connected? Or those that just have dial-up? Or those without computers? Believe it or not, these people are still many.
In a recent job interview presentation, I introduced the new digital learning tool DigitalLearn.org. This tool (still in beta; full release in June) teaches many internet and computer basics. My validation for recommending this tool was that I had helped many students in the past with the skills it presents. Many times I demonstrated skills with Word and PowerPoint to the college-aged students. For the middle schoolers I helped as a substitute library aide, I taught them those plus how to print, use a mouse, and other basics. With the middle schoolers, the main cause for not knowing these skills was the rural area. Lack on internet connectivity combined with many students from poorer families lacking home computers meant the students relied on the school to provide opportunities to learn the necessary skills.
Since I live in the district I substitute for, I can vouch for the internet problems. It took until 2010 to receive high-speed internet.* Even then, one company has the sole monopoly on the service and the connectivity is limited to a minority of the district. Many still use dial-up. And we may be rural, but we are still only about forty miles from a major United States city! My significant other’s family lives several hours further away from the same city in a more rural area and they had broadband internet (from a different company) long before we did. However, now their network is so overwhelmed that the speed has dropped to that of dial-up. Since it is not a major market, the provider won’t address the issue. If these problems are happening in one state, it is bound to be representative of other states with rural populations.
Just how predominate is this problem of rural access? According to a February 11, 2013 New York Times article:
Rural areas certainly suffer a lack of high-speed Internet access. While about 88 percent of urban households in the United States have access to high-speed cable Internet service, only 40 percent of rural households do.
Additionally, according to the 2011 EXPLORING THE DIGITAL NATION: Computer and Internet Use at Home government report,
- Almost one-third of Americans are not accessing broadband service at home.
- Over three-fourths (77 percent) of households had a computer. [Meaning 23% DON’T!]
- Lower income families, people with less education, those with disabilities, Blacks, Hispanics, and rural residents generally lagged the national average in both broadband adoption and computer use.**
And that’s just access! Sometimes even if the service is offered, it may not be affordable. For example, our internet connectivity costs over $60 a month! If a family had to choose between that and food, food will always win. You may recognize the issue here as part of the digital divide.
According to a January 9, 2013, Time Magazine Business and Money post “Is Broadband Internet Access a Public Utility?,”
“…millions of people in the U.S., mostly in the poorest and most rural communities, don’t have access to affordable broadband service, including 2.2 million people in New York City, according to [policy expert Susan] Crawford. ‘We’re depriving people of basic communications access’…” [and] “In Europe, where there is much more robust wireless competition, one gigabit service with unlimited minutes and text messages is available for $12 per month, according to Crawford. A comparable service in the U.S. costs anywhere from $50 to $90 per month, depending on the contract.”
The same article mentions that for wired capabilities, in Seoul, South Korea one can subscribe to broadband at home for only $30 and that they have four options for service providers. In opposition, many United States cities only have one. Crawford goes on to argue in both this article and a book on the subject, that internet access should be a public utility.
Now that we’ve seen the problems that exist for those in rural and low-income areas and the cost issues, here’s some more data about nation-wide broadband access. According to recently released data from the Pew Research Center, as of December, 2012, only 65% of American households have home broadband connections. The same report shows that only 4% of homes access the Internet via dial-up, a number I think is low. The number also makes me wonder if the survey was conducted online, preventing much of the rural population from participating. The data also states that “70% of whites and roughly half of African-Americans (53%) and Hispanics (49%) have high-speed internet access at home,” and that price and access to broadband are two of the four main reasons Americans lack broadband access. Lastly, senior citizens, Spanish speakers, adults who hadn’t completed high school, and low-income households were most likely to lack internet access of any kind. If you follow the link above, you can look at more of the collected data; it is also regularly updated (looks like yearly) so it is possible that down the line the figures will no longer match what is written here.
I’m going to stop here for this week and continue next week with ways to address the lack of broadband access in rural areas. I originally planned to cover everything in one post, but I didn’t want to have a double-length post; I already write posts longer than most.
How is internet connectivity in your area? Do you know of places that lack high-speed internet? If so, what effects have you seen?
P.S. I updated the “Blogs Followed” tab. It now features about a dozen new blogs.
* In homes only. The school had access to high-speed internet through a state service for the majority of the decade while the homes didn’t.
** Taken from the report summary, pages v-vi.