Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Divided We Fall

We hear the catch phrase often enough in political speeches and newspaper editorials. For those of us living along one and two-lane roads it is a daily reality. Many of us own computers, cell phones and other electronic devices and consider ourselves plugged in, at least to some degree. And yet, we remain in that minority group whose access and opportunities are limited by spotty cell tower coverage and lack of available broadband, high speed internet.

When I worked in the city, access wasn’t too much of an issue. My cell phone worked fine during the day and on the drives to and from work when I was traveling the interstate. Turn east on Route 33, however, and the coverage dropped dramatically. At the top of Mount Olive Hill it was commonplace to see people pulled off the road and talking on their phones because that was the last place it would work until they reached Interstate 79, some 70 miles away.

Cell coverage has improved, thankfully. While much of Route 33 remains “dark” there are pockets of access in Spencer and Glenville. At my home, coverage is almost good—almost, but not quite. There are times when I can use my phone in my house but more often than not I have to take it out on the porch and stand in the area we call “the phone booth” to assure an uninterrupted conversation. This is inconvenient, surely, but not something I will call congressmen about.

The internet is another story. For rural folks, the choices are three: don’t have it, have dial-up and constant frustration, or have satellite and intermittent frustration. If we choose satellite, we will pay twice as much as our friends with broadband and have less speed and limited bandwidth. We will also have more outages because of weather and equipment issues. We won’t be able to stream video, download music, use Skype or do a myriad of other things that our friends take for granted. And remember, we’re paying twice as much for the opportunity not to be able to do those things.

Video, Skype and such things are just entertainment some might argue, and that’s true to a point. Some  of us need to download music because we work with it as performers. Some need to use Skype because they can’t afford long distance calls to relatives overseas. Some need to upload videos as advertisements for their services.  

And then there are the missed employment opportunities. There are many work-at-home jobs available—to those with high speed internet. Amazon hires people in our state to provide customer service to callers, for example. There are company who hire people for tech support, for video surveillance, as online tutors and more.  These jobs are desperately needed in rural areas where commuting is expensive or impractical. If our politicians really had an interest in providing jobs, they’d be working hard to get broadband to the areas where the votes are sparse but the need is greatest.  Those of us who sell goods online struggle with slow upload speeds ; we are resigned to having to spend far more time than the more fortunate high-speed customers to do the same tasks. 

We are blessed to live in homes that are out of the mainstream and surrounded by such beauty as others can only dream of. We pay a price for our privacy and peace, however. We pay more for many services and for the cost of traveling out of our remote homes to shop and work. We are also paying the hidden cost of falling behind the rest of the world because we cannot compete in an online all the time economy. 

In years past, it was lack of good roads that impeded progress and growth in Appalachia. Now the same terrain that hindered physical access is impeding electronic access, and we are being left behind once again. 

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Appalachia and mountain West too. Same complaints for me in northern Idaho but I figure that's the price for living in a place once called Hog Heaven. Rural electrification was the same song. Batsy

warren said...

It's a shame but with the cost of copper, it isn't coming any time soon. It would be cool if the local guy who beams between water towers would expand but that costs money too. Not sure what the answer is but it just plain stinks

Marie said...

It certainly isn't fair to rural customers. I agree. I would love to live in the mountains...but my internet service is a lifeline for me as I am sure it is for everyone for different reasons! I know your ebay has to be hard to deal with. Not sure what the answer is!

Brighid said...

Internet and cell coverage is a real working problem for me in Northern California as well. Where I live there is only one internet provider! It takes forever to upload pics, so e-bay selling is out. Have almost come to the financial conclusion that it would be better to move up to my son's in WA so I would have acceess.

C. Joy said...

I wish I could show this post to my mom, who lives in northern Georgia and is convinced that the computer and internet hate her (we, her children, are ready to agree). Her service is almost nil yet she pays $50 a month to her provider. She hasn't been able to get online since I left her a couple of weeks ago. It's poor service and someone learning a new skill that are making her wonder what all the fuss is about. I want so much for her to be connected with her children and especially her grandchildren. Also, when I visit I have to stand out on the porch to use my phone. Let us know when you figure all this out. Sorry to unload, you just touched a sore spot.

Granny Sue said...

Joy, you touch a sore point--seniors need the internet as much or more than other age groups. For them it's a lifeline to family and caregivers.

Granny Sue said...

Reading your comments helps me to understand that I am not alone and that Appalachia is not the only region isolated by lack of access. The internet is the phone line of the past. Back then the government stepped in to assure access was equal. Will the government do the same now? With the current lack of bipartisanship and the constant party bickering I don't hold out much hope. Do you?

Nance said...

so sad, Sue, but I think the government and Congress and Wall Street are so out of touch with mainstream America that they haven't a clue. (have you heard the rumor that the Fanny Mae and Freddy Mac execs are going to get HUGE bonuses? after our tax monies bailed them out?) I have good internet service here in a town of 8,000 in southern Iowa but when I weekend at my rustic cabin 90 miles south, it is still "pull over on this hill so I can talk on the phone". Low population area and State representatives are living far away in populated areas.

Angel said...

I agree with you 100%. I live between Ravenswood and Parkersburg and internet here is also either dial-up or satelite. Cell service isn't much better either. I have one of them pay as you go phones, which doesn't work here. My hubby's daughter came for a visit here recently and her's worked but only in one spot out front and pressed up against the window in her room. And we're not as rural as you.

C. Joy said...

Wonder what happened to the expression "the business of America is business?" It seems everyone would benefit with working internet.

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