Why is it so hard to get reliable internet in rural areas? | Jobs Recent


The pandemic has thrown the need for fast, reliable Internet service into sharp relief.

People started working from home, kids were learning online, Zoom became a household name. Internet access became a necessity, rather than a luxury.

In large metropolitan areas, connecting to the Internet is easy. You can usually find many companies that offer different options with different speeds.

But in rural areas, modern broadband options are very limited, if any at all.

And in some cases, efforts to build broadband infrastructure in these areas have been thwarted by the private sector.

Crosscut investigative reporter Brandon Block sat down with Soundside to discuss his reporting on the state’s processes for funding and building broadband infrastructure.

Block says the biggest challenge is the cost of building infrastructure. Because most Internet providers are profitable companies, there is not much money to be made in rural areas, because there are not many customers there.

But that is not the only reason why infrastructure may be lacking.

Through the federal opposition process, Comcast and a company called Rural Wireless LLC, were able to stop progress on eight different projects to improve broadband infrastructure.

In Grays Harbor County, the local Public Service District applied for a grant to connect about 1,000 homes in these rural areas between the towns of Oakville and Elma, which are very small towns. In opposition papers filed with the state, Comcast said it provides about a quarter of these homes, but the request was denied.

As Block explained, “Unfortunately, the State didn’t look too closely at the opposition, it just decided it was a credible opposition,” which halted progress in the region.

“I think a lot of it is just playing around with a problem that has been around for a long time,” explained Block. “Rural Internet access is something that people may not even think about, if they live in a big city like Seattle, where they take Internet access for granted.”

Block thinks that people have become more familiar with how necessary the Internet is to participate in modern society.

“With the pandemic, and the start of remote work, remote school, and things going online, it’s very different that, if you live in one of these places where you don’t have access, or your access is very slow. , it actually makes it difficult to participate in the modern economy,” said Block.

Unfortunately, Internet access is not treated the same way as other types of essential services, such as water, sewage, or electricity. As for the question of whether broadband access will achieve that “usability status,” Block says we still have a long way to go.

“I don’t think we’re going to see the FCC come in all of a sudden and like to break up Comcast or Verizon or any of these companies,” Block said. “But there are more resources than ever to expand online programs available to the public. And at the local level, we’re seeing a lot of interesting exploration.”

Testing in places like Jefferson County on the Olympic Peninsula, where they are beginning the process of putting in place the infrastructure to be able to provide broadband service on a retail basis to customers.

“This is the first public district to enter online shopping. And that’s a dangerous move,” said Block. “I think a lot of public service districts will be watching to see how the funds work. This will be a test to see if this model works in other rural areas. “

It is also important to acknowledge that it is not just rural areas that suffer from a lack of broadband penetration. Mike Fehlauer-Hayes found that problem when he and his family moved from Seattle to a cozy place just outside of Woodinville.

“Fifteen minutes or less from Microsoft World HQ in a nice looking place, right?” Fehlauer-Hayes told Soundside. “We didn’t give it a second thought. But when we checked in, we found out that only DSL is available through traditional telephone. And that doesn’t really stop.”

Fehlauer-Hayes says they tried to make things work using a combination of satellite services and multiple hotspots, but with a family of four and everyone needing a piece of that bandwidth, it didn’t work. After exhausting all other options, he and his neighbors asked Comcast what it would cost to put down a fixed connection.

“The need was very urgent, so we all came together,” Fehlauer-Hayes explained. “When Comcast came back and said, ‘Good, it’s going to be $70,000,’ we all jumped in and made it happen.”

In the end, it took about three years to get the lines up and running in their place. So if anyone deserves to kick back and binge on overpriced Netflix, it’s Fehlauer-Hayes and her neighbors.

Soundside has reached out to Comcast and Rural Wireless for comment. Comcast did not respond during airtime and Rural Wireless LLC appears to have shut down its operations earlier this year.

You can listen to the entire conversation by clicking the audio above.



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