Connecting to the 21st Century

42% of Americans are working full-time from home (WFH) right now, compared to 33% who are not working and the rest who are working at their vocation, mostly due to having an essential occupation.  Those who are WFH currently account for 60% of economic activity right now. Ergo, it seems as if working from home may be easier to transition into for sustained economic progress in the near future, but a caveat exists: access and connectivity.

39 million Americans are currently without either fast internet or any internet access at all. This number from the FCC is an undercount however, due to their arbitrary measurement tactics, and Microsoft estimates this number to be closer to 163 million people. That comes out to 49.7% of Americans. Most of these people are found in rural America, where large private telecommunications providers do not have the same profit margins as they do in dense cities, so they see no need to expand out there without a comparable willingness to pay from consumers. A Google search finds that Verizon charges $85 minimally for internet in rural parts of the nation, which is without any bundle, with an annual contract, and absent hidden costs. Meanwhile, my roommate and I paid $30 altogether a month for high speed internet in our Center City Philadelphia apartment. Rural Americans are colloquially known to make lower salaries on mean than those in urban & suburban settings, which also does not help with access to internet, as urbanites are seeing wages rise much faster than rural dwellers, mostly due to education gaps albeit, but steadfast telecommunication price rises. Nevertheless, folks in rural parts of the U.S. are more adverse to job loss due to work-from-home orders; lack of internet access and lack of affordable internet is a cornerstone of this endeavor.

A solution to this would be a government-provided internet service (universal broadband), whether nationally or at a municipal level. This is not some wild, new idea. Groups ranging from bipartisan Congressmen to presidential contenders have pitched this sort of idea, where rural Americans can have identical Wi-Fi that those living on Fifth Avenue and in Calabasas have access to.

As its come to be known that water, food, and shelter, are necessities for humanity, its time to realize that internet access is necessary for people in western nations. Indeed, the internet is a sprawling growth monster for Americans to not only work, but learn, eat, conduct commerce, and idle. There is a reason that tech companies outperform other sectors on the New York Stock Exchange and why companies like Zoom, Overstock, Wayfair, & Fastly, have performed so well during the pandemic at the demise of J Crew, Chuck E. Cheese, Gold’s Gym, and Le Pan Quotidien; they get the internet. A stark roadblock stands in the way of universal broadband, however: telecommunication companies like AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast.

Telecommunication companies do not see a benefit in expanding the same high-speed internet into rural parts of America. Look no further than the Volunteer State. In Chattanooga Tennessee, local officials saw the problem with residents lacking high-speed internet. They decided to set up a municipally owned electric company, which provided internet faster than any known to the city or even the state before. AT&T caught whiff of this and immediately took to court to block this. Previously, AT&T was providing lackluster service in the area, but saw no need to improve it. For a company like AT&T, they did not view the capital investment to improve internet access in Appalachia worthwhile, but they viewed the employee investment worth it when they hired government lobbyists across the nation. Thanks to a corporate profit-over-people manifesto, telecommunications companies have successfully lobbied 22 states to either severely restrict or outright ban municipal broadband. Without respectable internet access, people are not only losing the ability to work from home and earn an income, but they are losing the ability to participate in society altogether. If you look at the photo below, you will notice a recurring trend; these limitations are in rural states, which need internet access the most.

As society evolves and navigates the 21st century, it is prudent to remember that essentials in daily lives will too expand and morph. Internet access is already one of these necessities, but roadblocks exist to expanding it, and thus a formidable roadblock to income equity across cities & towns stands erect.  If governments provide internet as a service instead of keeping it as a private commodity meant to support shareholders, Americans may be assured that internet is not only being provided to all equitably, but that their tax dollars are responsibly allocated. The national conversation on this is coming soon, I reckon, and broadband will be seen as a service rather than solely a profit giant soon.

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