I am blessed to live in a rural community that has fairly stable and moderately fast broadband Internet service. It allows me to work with clients wherever they happen to be, have access to the latest news, information and research, and participate in the full panoply of global commerce.
However, when it comes to rural Internet access, some areas of rural India or Africa may have it better than many sections of the rural U.S. According to John Hockenberry writing on TheTakeAway.org, some two billion people around the world now regularly use the Internet, but in rural America, as recently as 2011, only 60 percent of households had Internet access.
This matters, as I say, because in this day and age, lack of Internet access throws up huge barriers to growth and development, both for individuals and for communities.
According to Brian Depew, assistant executive director at the Center for Rural Affairs, “If you look at what the Internet has become and what it will continue to become…[it’s fundamental] to your ability to engage in civic affairs, to be able to read the newspaper, and contact your elected officials. That is all moving online. And that makes Internet a basic utility just like water and electricity are.”
So why are 19 million rural Americans still waiting to be “hooked up” to the rest of the world? Its economics, pure and simple. Providers have already brought service to communities where it’s easy and inexpensive. The ones that are left are often sparsely populated and difficult to get to, and the profit incentive to put up and maintain the necessary infrastructure is strained at best.
If Depew is right and access to information is as basic as access to water or electricity, then more must be done to pressure providers to bring high-speed broadband to the 19 million rural Americans still without it. Our communities need it to teach and govern; individuals need it to develop and grow.
This is America in the 21st century. Access to the Internet should be a basic right. We can do better than this.