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Rural internet options: Some of us are still in the dark ages

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I still remember when we first got high speed internet at our house.

I was so excited. I grabbed my laptop and plopped down in the middle of the living room. I connected to Facebook and delighted in how quickly the pictures and icons loaded onto my screen. Unfortunately, our dog at the time decided at that moment to run across the living room. He tripped over my laptop cord and broke it.

But it was still a memorable and magical moment. After spending four years at college, where high speed internet was totally expected, being at home on the farm was a bit of a struggle. I felt completely isolated from my friends. I was frustrated with the limitations of not having quality internet service. I remember submitting all of my applications for law school at the public library, because that was the only place I could connect. All we had at home was dial-up and, really, what was the point of it?

That was 2009.

I was recently reminded of the dark ages when I moved to my new home in Indiana. Although we’re not really that far from the city where I work, the cell reception is absolutely horrific. My phone drops calls. I can’t use the mobile hotspot to power my computers. My Twitter feed won’t refresh. I don’t even always get my text messages. Occasionally, I pick up service while walking through the house and my phone lights up with three dozen notifications. Considering that I wasn’t totally convinced I would need to purchase a plan with an ISP, this has been a rude awakening.

It makes me appreciate efforts to increase rural access to broadband internet services — a topic I have thus far roundly ignored. I guess when we have reliable access to something for so long (well, nine years at least) we start to take it for granted.

Courtesy of John Deere

I can only imagine how difficult it is for farmers trying to implement modern technology. We have self-driving tractors, equipment to monitor live field conditions, and drones that can fly a field and send the data back to our computers. But none of that stuff works if we aren’t connected. We can’t take advantage of the benefits technology can offer, including more efficient production methods and environmentally-friendly benefits, if we can’t connect.

Even setting aside all these tech advancements in agriculture, imagine how frustrating it is for rural communities when they don’t have adequate internet connectivity. While it is certainly a “first world problem,” it does leave those communities and those people in the dark. It makes it difficult for them to compete in the marketplace, limits opportunities, and allows them to fall further behind.

According to the FCC, 30 million Americans cannot connect to high speed internet. In the city, 97 percent of Americans have access to reliable, fast internet. In rural communities, that number falls to less than 65 percent. Unfortunately, the areas that need it the most are the ones that usually go without.

Image courtesy of Gage Skidmore, Flickr

While, I’ve previously criticized FCC Chairman Ajit Pai for his termination of net neutrality laws, I applaud his efforts for connecting those parts of our country that need it most. Under Pai, the FCC has adopted the Mobility Fund, which will allocate up to $4.53 billion over the next decade to advance 4G LTE service in primarily rural areas that are underserved in the marketplace. He’s revising regulations that put up costly barriers for companies attempting to service rural areas. He’s launched the Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee, which provides advice and recommendations to the FCC on how to accelerate the deployment of high speed internet access.

Will it work? I sure hope so!

My ISP is coming on Saturday morning to connect my house to the fastest internet connection I can afford. My dark ages is a temporary problem. For many Americans, that isn’t the case. I have a newfound appreciation for their plight.

 

Amanda Zaluckyj blogs under the name The Farmer’s Daughter USA. Her goal is to promote farmers and tackle the misinformation swirling around the U.S. food industry.

Any views or opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect those of AGDAILY. Comments on this article reflect the sole opinions of their writers.
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