Rural vs urban divide fueled by awful internet service

By Lee Cleveland, Polls and Trends - January 23, 2021

For the last decade or so we’ve seen rifts worsen in America by race, social status and political ideology. However, the rural vs urban divide may be the most significant schism of them all.

In fact, President Biden, in his inaugural speech Wednesday, mentioned America’s ongoing tension as it relates to the rural vs urban divide.

Obviously, the political differences and tensions between rural and non-rural societies are extensive and well-known. What many of us don’t realize, however, are the technical disparities that exist between societies.

Shoddy internet service, for example, has been an issue in rural America for quite some time as performance in many places hasn’t been able to meet the demand for increased speed and consistency in today’s ever-advancing digital world.

“The pandemic has graphically exposed the shortcomings of high-speed internet in rural Pennsylvania,” said State Sen. Gene Yaw, chairman of the Center for Rural Pennsylvania via The Philadelphia Inquirer.

“The issue is not controversial, nonpartisan, and needed.”

A recent Penn State University study concluded certain areas of the Keystone State  have internet speeds far below the FCC’s 25 megabits-per-second benchmark for “high speed.”

Fifteen or even 10 years ago this ago this wouldn’t have been so dire, but with the advent of smartphones, increased reliance on streaming and the fact more people are working and going to school from home more often these days, society is extremely dependent on quality and consistent high-speed internet service 24/7.

“Romania has better connectivity than we do, and they had no connectivity 20 years ago,” said Sascha Meinrath, the Palmer Chair in Telecommunications at Penn State via The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Meinrath, who discussed the issue with Biden’s team, added, “There’s no honeymoon on this.”

“We’ll know in 30 to 60 days whether the Biden team will take action. The ideas are all there. They just need to be put into action.”

Perhaps Meinrath, who also previously consulted the teams of former presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump on the issue of slow and consistent internet service in rural America, should be a little more optimistic about things improving under Biden who, per his campaign website, hopes to bring 5G wireless coverage to every American by investing $20 billion in “rural broadband infrastructure.”

The same site acknowledged: “Rural Americans are over 10 times more likely than urban residents to lack quality broadband access.”

Nonetheless, the cries of rural America, as it relates to internet service, hadn’t exactly fallen on deaf ears in the past and we’ve learned it’ll take more than throwing money at the problem to fix the situation.

Gigi Sohn, a distinguished fellow at Georgetown Law Institute for Technology Law & Policy, said the FCC has given out billions of dollars to service providers over the years that claim they will supply high-speed internet to rural areas. Those claims, Sohn said, were not met, and she believes the government must be responsible for ensuring accountability and results going forward.

Step 1- Accurately expose the flaws and access what needs to be done: Meinrath, who insists FCC estimations of internet speeds in some rural areas and woefully off their mark, hopes the Biden Administration will conduct a thorough study of internet speeds nationwide.

Such a study would offer a glimpse into the deficiencies of rural internet service versus the standards long achieved in metropolitan areas and semi-metropolitan areas.

Hopefully, the Biden Administration will do a deep dive into the complexities of the situation, get its fingers dirty and ultimately help get rural internet ‘up to speed.’

“The pandemic has finally shown that internet is infrastructure,” said  Donna Iannone, a commissioner in Sullivan County via The Philadelphia Inquirer.

“It’s as important as electricity or telephones. We’ll have to wait and see if they finally treat it that way.”

Tags: Rural America