Broadband access at my house is frustratingly slow. We had to cancel Netflix, because we can’t stream. My iPad apps can’t update, and have been permanently hung up for weeks (I’ve rebooted the iPad several times, to no avail). Skyping is very spotty. You can’t watch any online video, even YouTube, without transmission being interrupted. Before you say, “Oh, shut up, you and your First World problems,” I will point out that given the line of work I’m in — media — I have to have reliable broadband access to do my job efficiently. I’m already developing some work-arounds, and I can go to the coffee shop or to my mom and dad’s house (out in the country!) if I need to have fast Internet.

But really, it’s a problem. We’ve called AT&T, which is looking into it. We told them that we were at a friend’s house on the other side of town the other night, and he was able to stream Netflix fine — by which we meant that he had normal high-speed Internet access. We’re in the same town. Is there something wrong with our connection, or what?

They’re looking into it, but the preliminary answer, the man said, is that the phone company’s equipment serving our part of town — the historic downtown — is probably significantly older than that in other parts of the town, and the parish. And that’s not a quick fix. My first thought was, “Well, when my lease is up, I’ll have to move, because I have to have faster Internet to conduct business.” And then I thought about how difficult it would be to attract businesses to town if you cannot offer them reliable high-speed Internet connections. I’m just a one person working from home, but if I were thinking of relocating my small business here — and it would be a great place for that — I couldn’t afford to do so without fast Internet.

This is such a small town that I don’t know that AT&T has any real economic incentive to upgrade its equipment to provide first-class broadband to people here. Is this something the town, or parish government, would have an interest in subsidizing, as an economic development initiative? The Internet really has become a necessity for economic development, just as electrification was a century ago. To be sure, we have broadband here, but it’s pretty slow — again, so slow that the kinds of things most people take for granted are not possible to do here, at least not in my part of town. The San Antonio Express-News wrote last year about what’s happening to small towns without broadband. Excerpt:

The Obama administration has promised $1.26 billion from the Recovery Act for the first phase of a plan to build out the nation’s broadband infrastructure. That money pays for 126 projects in 28 states, including projects in Texas Panhandle and Central Texas.

Not everyone, however, is on board with that initiative.

An August study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project found 53 percent of Americans don’t feel that broadband should be a major governmental spending priority. But Staples said it’s vital to public health and education in small communities.

You don’t realize how much our modern way of economic life depends on reliable high-speed Internet service, until you don’t have it. Towns and places that don’t have it are going to get left behind, economically.

UPDATE: Ran into a lawyer at the courthouse today, who heard my tale of woe, and said, “That doesn’t make sense to me. You have fiber optic cable running right in front of your house.” What?! This I must look into.

 

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