Broadband as a Utility

There’s been much discussion about net neutrality lately. It’s an important issue, and one that needs to be addressed. ISPs should not be able to favor one service over another. Sucks for them. You know who it doesn’t suck for, or, for that matter, benefit? The roughly 22% of American homes without broadband.

That’s a fairly big number. Now some of those people might simply live in areas where the service isn’t available. For that we need something like the Rural Electrification Board to bring broadband access to remote areas. But others don’t have it because they can’t afford it.

Right now I pay $40 a month for my internet service. Of the four tiers of speed I have available, I get the second slowest. It’s what I can afford, and believe me, it’s a challenge to even afford that at my current levels of income. For other people, especially single parents with multiple children, I’m sure it’s even worse.

Broadband internet access is, at this point, almost a necessity. It’s about as much of necessity as electricity or phone service. The government provides subsidies for low income people so they can have phone service. Electric companies usually have some sort of low-income thing available, too. Sadly, I quality for that. But subsidized broadband? I don’t think too many places in the USA offer that.

And they should. I discussed this with a friend of mine back a few weeks ago, and he basically said, “Oh, boo-hoo. The poor can just go to libraries.” This is 100% true, if you live in an area where the library has broadband, and if there’s enough computers for you to use, and if the library is open during the times you can go. The library in the town I grew up in, Lacey, WA, is closed on Sundays, and has very limited hours during the rest of the week. If you’re someone who works 10:00 – 6:00, Monday through Friday, then basically your only chance to hit the library is during a seven-hour time span on Saturday, during which I’m sure many other people will be hitting it, too. Even the largest library in their network, the one in Olympia, WA, is closed on Sundays and has very limited hours during the rest of the week.

So libraries aren’t a practical option for many people. And not everyone attends school. But I would argue that broadband, and the internet in general, is at this point a vital part of our society. It’s every bit as important for people to have access to that as it is to have access to electricity and phone service. I’m not just talking about streaming Netflix or downloading porn, either. Having internet access is vital for job hunting, and for educational research. Even if you aren’t attending a formal school because you’re already working two full-time jobs in addition to being a single parent raising three kids, you might still want to go to Khan Academy, or one of the other free online sources, and learn yourself some stuff.

Now one can also say that it’s unlikely that someone who is so poor they can’t afford broadband would be rich enough to own a computer. That’s possibly true. But a basic computer can be had for under $200, if you get it used. You might be able to even pick up something basic and free if you’re willing to have a computer from 1998. Beyond that, if you can afford to spend $80, you can get a basic tablet. It might not be able to do much, but at least it would get you online in your own home.

Really, there’s no reason not to do this. Broadband internet is crappy enough in this country without denying it to many millions of people whose lives it can improve. I say that if you already qualify for other low-income programs, why not get this as well? It’s just sense.


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