Speed Reads

stuck in the 90s

Rural America has a serious internet problem

Millions of rural Americans are stranded in the "dial-up age" as internet providers continue to under-serve regions outside of major metropolitan centers, The Wall Street Journal reports. Approximately 39 percent of the rural population in the country — about 23 million people — don't have "fast" internet, which is defined as having the speed to support "email, web surfing, video streaming, and graphics for more than one device at once," the Journal writes. On the other hand, only 4 percent of urban dwellers lack fast internet.

Consider, for example, conditions in Washington County, Missouri, which has a density of just 33 people per square mile:

At the county's 911 center, dispatch director William Goad sometimes loses his connection to the state emergency system. That means dispatchers can't check license plates for police or relay arrest-warrant information.

As severe thunderstorms approached in late February, Mr. Goad tried to keep watch using an internet connection sputtering at speeds too slow to reliably map a tornado touchdown or track weather patterns.

"We drill for oil above the Arctic Circle in some of the worst conditions known to man," Mr. Goad said. "Surely we can drop broadband across the rural areas in the Midwest." [The Wall Street Journal]

Installing fiber-optic cables, which cost about $30,000 a mile, simply isn't financially feasible for sparsely populated regions of America. Such communities are instead served by existing copper lines, which are still too weak to deliver high-speed data. Satellite dishes and fixed wireless also rely on sending data over short distances, and can't handle "high data" activities, like video streaming, very well.

Some lawmakers are hoping the Trump administration will address the problem in his $1 trillion infrastructure package. "Rural broadband, we need that quite honestly more than we need roads and bridges in many of the counties I represent," said Rep. Austin Scott (R-Ga.). Read the full report at The Wall Street Journal.