Thankful for broadband internet, and hopeful for much more  

We thank you for the broadband and hope thatwill be much more than that.

Where would we be this year without the Internet?

This year we shopped, worked, studied and taught, looked for work and cared for each other online like never before, not to mention chatting. With many of us facing difficulties and obvious adversity this year, it is hard to imagine how things would have gone this year without the support of a reliable broadband connection. So much so that it has become a necessity.

I am grateful to you and I acknowledge that we still have a long way to go before we can all share this gratitude. As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, fixed broadband internet access at home remains out of reach for many. In the United States alone, an analysis shows that more than 150 million people do not use high-speed internet, which is almost half of the population of the United States.

What is broadband internet?

A good question to ask here: What exactly is a broadband connection? The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) defines a broadband speed as a download speed of 25 megabits per second (Mbps) and an upload speed of 3 Mbps. (Note that the FCC estimates that only 21 million people in the United States do not have a broadband connection, and this number is considered low).

In everyday life, a download speed of 25 megabits per second is a basic figure that a family of two or four should be able to entertain and inform at any time, thanks to bandwidth-intensive activities such as working from home, e-learning or even medical care via telemedicine and streaming.

If we look at that figure of 150 million underemployed people, we see people living in remote areas who simply don’t have access to broadband, millions of people in rural and tribal areas. It also includes residents of urban areas who may have access to broadband, but whose income level affects their ability to subscribe.

The main obstacle to the development of broadband communications in the country is of course the 1.9 billion hectares of land that our country covers. The physical, technological and financial effort needed to build fixed broadband access in rural and remote areas is considerable to say the least. There are also regulatory issues, such as the rules for access to existing electricity poles and the connections needed for broadband deployment.

Broadband is no longer a luxury, but a utility of.

Ultimately, it’s not just about connecting homes, but whole communities – people, businesses, libraries, property, local governments and more. Giving them access to broadband is not only a commercial interest, but also an infrastructure issue. Just as water and electricity are utilities, broadband has long since become a public service. The reasons for this are obvious: Education, economic growth, employment and even access to healthcare – all improve when the community has access to broadband, as can be seen in communities like Chattanooga, Tennessee and Delta County, Colorado. It is therefore logical that their participation becomes a joint public-private enterprise.

Meanwhile, the lack of adequate broadband connectivity by Nebraska during last summer’s pandemic led the governor and state legislature to allocate resources to fight the pandemic and pass legislation that would accelerate broadband deployment by the state. As reported in the Omaha World newsletter, a leader of the rural population of Nebraska said there is a fixed broadband connection: It goes beyond economic development, it goes beyond monitoring Netflix, there are real economic consequences.

But even in communities where broadband is physically accessible, there are areas where connectivity is slow. According to the Pew Research Center, only 53% of adults with an income below $30,000 had broadband access at home. For people with an income between 30,000 and 100,000 dollars this figure jumps to 81%. Instead, poor Americans use their smartphones to access the Internet. Judging by the results:

By early 2019, 26% of adults living in households with an annual income of less than $30,000 will be Internet users who rely on a smartphone, i.e. who own a smartphone but do not have broadband Internet access at home. By 2019, however, only 5 percent of people in households with an income of $100,000 or more will fall into this category.

Smartphones are not enough

How can life on the internet be for smartphones alone? The Pew Research Center analyzed this situation in a survey that asked respondents questions about online job search. Approximately 32% of people with a family income of less than $30,000 registered by telephone. Among households earning more than $75,000, this figure is only 7%. (Cost is of course a factor, but it’s still encouraging to see that the average reported cost of broadband in the United States is falling from just over $67 a month a year ago to $50 a month).

This is just one example of internet only on a smartphone, but you can imagine how difficult it is to create a CV, do homework or work remotely if your internet access is limited to a small phone screen. On the contrary, the need to work and study at home this year. Low-income family, smartphone-dependent, missing. Your internet is less useful and less productive. They simply cannot work, learn and train at home as fully connected households.

Broadband route for all

I hope we all have a perspective when we share this with you. Far fewer people have access to broadband internet than we originally thought, resulting in a lack of connectivity that is staggering in terms of the benefits and opportunities they and their communities can enjoy.

The decision to roll out broadband access obviously depends to a large extent on the national broadband agencies, the federal budget and legislation, as well as on public partnerships and interest groups, all of which are in favour of broadband deployment. (And in states that allow it, municipal broadband solutions). But as individuals, we can let this reality influence some of our decisions locally.

If libraries in your area have been approved for funding, consider giving them approval because they can fund places and services where people have free high-speed Internet access. Also watch out for tuition fees, they can help give a computer in the hands of a student who doesn’t have one. (The 11% growth in sales of PCs, Macs and Chromebooks this year was largely due to the education market, which had to supply computers for home use). These are just some of the ways in which we can think globally, act locally and help others access the high-speed internet.

As Thanksgiving approaches, we would like to thank you for the fact that many of us appreciate the Internet connection and its importance this year. Let us also remember that our country and our communities still have a long way to go before the vast majority of us can benefit from the same experience – so that they too can benefit and be grateful.

Stay tuned, so

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