This is a guest blog post by Heather McDougal, California resident, rural broadband advocate, and former technology teacher at a local rural elementary school. Follow #BroadbandConnectsAmerica on social media for more on the new coalition.
In Swanton, California, just over 50 miles outside of tech Mecca Silicon Valley, my family can’t get reliable internet. Though affordability remains the number one barrier to internet adoption, we don’t lack connection because of a budget crunch. Instead, we lack access because we live in a rural area and carriers like ours, AT&T, have stopped investing and maintaining internet infrastructure in less populated areas.
My family shells out approximately $100 a month for both landline and “high-speed” internet that actually only reaches abysmal levels between .3 and 2.5 Mbps on a normal day, which is nowhere near the Federal Communications Commission’s definition of broadband -- 25/3 Mbps. We recently attempted to downgrade our plan, but were told that our account would be cancelled because AT&T no longer supports DSL in this area. When we moved to the Davenport area of California in 2004, we had no connectivity problems whatsoever and were able to work remotely. Now both my husband and I struggle to find a decent connection to work as a designer and professor and to simply live happily in our home of over a decade.
In Swanton, we also lack cell phone reception -- something I, Heather McDougal, proud rural California broadband advocate and Mom, think is no accident. AT&T is clearly letting the system go, with no plans for replacements. My neighbors have also been denied internet access by AT&T and have had to shell out way too much money for way too little access through fly-by-night satellite companies (the only ones who will come out here). Unfortunately, my community’s story is not unique: over 31 percent of Americans living in rural areas do not have access to broadband at home.
We are among millions of Americans shut off from the internet because of poor infrastructure and low incentives for broadband providers to build out to less populated areas. That’s why more than 17 consumer and rural advocate organizations launched the Broadband Connects America (BCA) coalition today. The BCA is founded on five Principles to Connect Rural America, which outline a solid foundation for policymakers and rural consumers alike to support policies that will actually help bridge the rural digital divide.
I'm sharing my story with the public because broadband access is too important for rural Americans to go without. If you're also experiencing connectivity problems with your broadband provider, or unable to get access at all, I encourage you to share your story. Together, by telling our stories, we can bring reliable, 21st century connections to all Americans.