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Communications United States

What It's Like To Live in America Without Broadband Internet (vice.com) 139

Motherboard has an interesting piece which serves as a reminder that even today in every single state, a portion of the population doesn't have access to broadband, and some have no access to the internet at all. From the piece: Wilfong (an anecdote used in the story) is one of the more than 24 million Americans, or about 8 percent of the country, who don't have access to high-speed internet, according to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) -- and that's a conservative estimate. Most of them live in rural and tribal areas, though the problem affects urban communities, too. In every single state, a portion of the population doesn't have access to broadband.

The reasons these communities have been left behind are as diverse as the areas themselves. Rural regions like Wilfong's hometown of Marlinton are not densely populated enough to get telecom companies to invest in building the infrastructure to serve them. Some areas can be labeled as "served" by telecoms even if many homes don't actually have internet access, as in Sharon Township, Michigan, just a short drive from the technology hub of Ann Arbor. Others are just really far away. These places are so geographically remote that laying cable is physically and financially prohibitive, so towns like Orleans, California, have started their own nonprofit internet services instead.

What It's Like To Live in America Without Broadband Internet

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  • by Kenja ( 541830 ) on Tuesday April 17, 2018 @12:09PM (#56452507)
    Already got nonsense about mountain men and what not, so why not "broadbandless"!
    • "A new breed of American Frontiersman. Rugged. Independent. BROADBANDLESS."

      Couldn't be worse than Duck Dynasty.

      • by Kenja ( 541830 )
        For it to be as bad as duck dynasty it would have to be a bunch of Google employees pretending to not have internet access....
    • The concept of mountain men makes some sense as you could learn about living off the land (haven't watched the show myself but I suspect the usual rather light on actual educational content...). In the next few year years when the only transportation is self driving ubers and everyone gets food via Amazon drones, broadbandless might very well be an extremely relevant show about how to survive when you have to use your own feet to get to a food supply.

      • The concept of mountain men makes some sense as you could learn about living off the land

        Most of those shows are intriguing, but dubious. I've seen a few episodes where the characters are using tools and supplies that they have obviously purchased at a big box store. Blurred out orange buckets are usually a good indicator that they are frequenting Home Depot, etc.

        I suspect a "Broadbandless" TV show would feature similar holes in the story line. Like rigging up a high gain wifi antenna using AmazonBasics parts.

      • The concept of mountain men makes some sense as you could learn about living off the land (haven't watched the show myself but I suspect the usual rather light on actual educational content...). In the next few year years when the only transportation is self driving ubers and everyone gets food via Amazon drones, broadbandless might very well be an extremely relevant show about how to survive when you have to use your own feet to get to a food supply.

        You know, just contemplating it, but just let ONE bad ev

        • Yep, but if all the people who are no longer being fed by the grocery stores all follow the mountain men into their territory, they could be in trouble too. No matter what skills people have, I'm not sure the land can support our current population without electricity. The mountain men would probably be the ones to survive, if they can get away from all the other people that wont make it.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          You have to be willing and able to survive in areas where others are neither willing nor able to do so.

          You must also be mobile.

          A very high percentage (I'm guessing ~85%) of today's American population will most assuredly die off within 2 months of "going back to basics."

        • You know, just contemplating it, but just let ONE bad event happen that knocks out the US power grid, for even a week or more and let's see how bad things get.

          This reminds me of last year when there was a chance of a hurricane messing up our area real bad. My roommate was freaking out about water and food for if we lost power all week and if things got messed up. I just pulled out my backpacking gear and said: "Well I'm good for about 2 weeks."

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Jill knew she had to get off the net, away from anything that looked like the net. The people who were after her had access to every bit and byte of information and were even now combing through it. She had only one chance to get away long enough to sort through the mess she had gotten herself into, but it would not be without it's risks...

      She had to move quickly, she got to the ATM and pulled as much cash out as she could, though she knew it wouldn't get her far. She hopped a bus headed into the city cen

  • by Anonymous Coward

    satellite broadband: when you're too distant for cables to reach

    • Satellite is spotty at best in my neighborhood, thankfully I have cable and DSL to choose from. The DSL offers 20mbps, cable offers 300mbps and is much more stable.

    • by dj245 ( 732906 )

      satellite broadband: when you're too distant for cables to reach

      We have a couple employees in the middle of Louisiana whose only option is satellite. Due to the latency and dropped packets, they have problems accessing company files and email. As a result, they are under-utilized within the company and much less productive.

    • And not on the north side of a mountain.

    • I just looked at Sharon Township, but it shows up about 5 miles away from a point that should have fiber backhaul readily available; it should be an easy location for a wireless ISP to set up a tower and provide reasonable broadband.

      Some areas lack access to any viable uplink, but places that a 200' tower can serve a 10-mile radius should be viable if they can have 40-50 households as long as there is a point with fiber somewhere near that radius.

  • by Rick Schumann ( 4662797 ) on Tuesday April 17, 2018 @12:15PM (#56452563) Journal
    At current the Internet is kind of a waste of time, they're probably better off without it, are getting more important things done, reading more books, etc.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      This is probably true. I, like many others here, work in IT. I would still say most of what I do on the internet is a total waste of time and mind numbing to boot. Oh hey look I'm posting on Slashdot right now ;)

    • Hey, all my books are on my phone. What do you expect me to do without broadband, walk to a bookstore?!

      • If they're 'on your phone' then why do you need Internet at all?

        He means they're 'in the cloud', LOL

        ..oh, you're one of those people, aren't you? Be sure to enjoy paying your 'rental fee' all over again when your 'cloud' service goes belly-up on you with no notice. ;-)

        • Nope, all my books are on my phone, once purchased and downloaded anyway. I suppose I can wait for a day for the book to download when I buy a new one, I'm just not that patient.

          • by pnutjam ( 523990 )
            LAN calibre server.

            The newest version has a built in reader that caches the downloaded books to the browser, so it works offline.
        • More helpful advice from the community.

          This was a tired waste of time in 1989.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Damn straight. The Founding Fathers built America without the Internet. Sure, the used slaves to do it, but they didn't have the Internet.

      • Damn straight. The Founding Fathers built America without the Internet. Sure, the used slaves to do it, but they didn't have the Internet.

        By total numbers, Irish slaves far outnumbered African slaves. Irish slaves were cheaper, African slaves were much more valuable.

        Also, the very first legal owner of a slave in the US, and who fought through King Henry's Colonial Courts (America didn't make it's own laws when slavery was established legally) to establish slavery as officially & legally recognized as legitimate, was a black man named Anthony Johnson.

        Slavery in America was established nearly a century before the Founding Fathers were even

        • True, he never bought nor sold slaves. He did often mortgage them.

          In the Commonwealth of Virginia in Jefferson's time, it was perfectly legal to manumit your slaves. Problem was, those former slaves would have to immediately leave the Commonwealth of Virginia. He did manumit a small number of them, but not many.

        • by uncqual ( 836337 )

          The "Irish slave" claim is really a myth. There were many Irish indentured servants but indentured servitude is not the same as slavery. Being an indentured servant often was not a good life, but there were very critical differences between being an indentured servant and a slave.

          For example:

          • Indentured servants were considered a full "person". Slaves were not.
          • Indentured servants entered into a contract which required, typically in exchange for passage to the Colonies/US, them to provide services for a fixe
      • Yes. And they built a nation out of nothing, and fought for it's freedom from an oppressive foreign government. All without any bloody gods-be-damned Bread and Circuses (read as: The Internet, because that's what it's become, more or less). What have you done with your life?
    • Agruably, they're better off without the internet. Today, the internet is basically owned and controlled by mega-corporations and it's not the federated service it once was. All the internet does really is give you more and more information of dubious quality and reliability.
      • I have a fairly sensitive and selective front-end on my coginitive lobe, so it can still manage to pick out the signal from the noise, even when it's just a skoosh above the noise-floor. xD
    • when I was 10 I started programming. Single mom raising me (she was a Nurse) and few friends and I hit a wall pretty early on and stopped. The books at the library where all I had after all, and I didn't understand them. I picked it up again when I was 18 and did fine, but I'd lost 8 years. If I'd had stackoverflow I'd have had those 8 years.

      My bro has a similar story but with his guitar. His teacher taught him bad technique. With the Internet he'd have known this and learned the right technique. He'd ha
  • Without internet, all your porn is analog.
  • From the article:

    I sat down at one of the computer stations and opened an online speed test. Even there, speeds were far from broadband: 2.31 Mbps download, 0.79 upload. Enough to check your email or go on Facebook, but not much else.

    My lake home has what is advertised as 1200k/260k (yes, Kbps) DSL service. This 2.31mbit would be a 100% upgrade!

    When a lightning storm knocked out the DSLAM and a tech had to come out to the cabin, he informed me the entire lake (around 100 homes, about 25 of which with DSL) i

    • Even there, speeds were far from broadband: 2.31 Mbps download, 0.79 upload. Enough to check your email or go on Facebook, but not much else.

      2.31 Mbps is enough to watch all the netflix or youtube you want at 360p. It absolutely ought to be considered broadband and it has no significant limitations. Basically this is an article about what it's like to watch non-HD videos... sheesh.

      Personally I spend most of my day online but I have no use for anything faster than my 6 Mbps service (could get faster but I se

    • by fermion ( 181285 )
      The lake home is a choice. Anyone with a lake home can choose to pay for service. In our rural area, we chose to pay for phone service. We had to coordinate the other land owners to pay for telephone line, and then personally pay for the pole and the pulling the line to our place. If we didn't want to have the service, then we could have chosen not to pay. And then cried about how the government would not subsidize our choices.

      The same for ambulance service and mail. Packages are delivered when ther

  • Know this full well (Score:5, Informative)

    by Strider- ( 39683 ) on Tuesday April 17, 2018 @12:30PM (#56452719)

    I operate the internet connections to two remote communities in Washington State. In the end, I have between 80 and 100 people connected via a 3.3Mbps/900kbps satellite link. Collectively, they push between 20 and 30 GiB a day through the link. The only thing that makes it usable is the extremely aggressive QoS I have on the link, ensuring everyone gets a fair kick at the can.

    So why Satellite? In the case of these two communities, it's the only viable option. They are both in extremely rugged terrain, surrounded either by National Park or federal wilderness area. The nearest cellular tower is probably 50 miles and 2 or 3 valleys away, the nearest telephone pole about the same. It would be theoretically possible to lay a submarine fiber cable up the lake, but the lake is 1500' deep making a cable laying effort comperable to a short oceanic cable run. And there's no way the costs would be recouped from under 200 residents.

    I once plotted out what it would take to link out via fixed wireless, and it would require two self-powered repeater sites, in areas that easily receive 400" of snow a winter. The added bonus is that one of these repeaters would have to be located on a ridge in the federal wilderness. Making this happen would literally require an act of congress to approve, and given how dysfunctional congress is... Plus the whole system would probably cost about $400k to build, again not something that's going to be recouped from the small number of users.

    So, in the end, we pay our satellite fees. Those who want faster service arrange their own links via ViaSat or similar, and we continue on. If SpaceX ever gets StarLink off the ground, that could easily be a good option. However, I'd love to see how their flat Ku-Band antennas will work in areas that get significant snowfall, and have a limited view of the sky due to rugged terrain.

    • Sound like you're in Chelan - me too! I have relatives that live the other direction about 10 miles away from the lake. That entire valley has no access at all. Some are lucky enough to at least have an analog phone line, but it's very unreliable in that area. If the phone line goes down in winter it stays down until spring.

      I may be putting up my own cellular repeater on their property - I found a spot that can receive Verizon about 3500' from their house - I just need to get power there.

      • by Strider- ( 39683 )

        I don't actually live in the area, but I'm the tech that operates the network that services Stehekin and Holden.

        The funny part is that otherwise, Chelan County provides absolutely excellent service to most of the population. During the 2015 Wolverine fire, I was evacuated from Holden and spent a fair amount of time in the community. The PUD fiber, if you're in an area that can get it, is absolutely phenomenal. Unfortunately, we can't get it up at 25 mile creek (where Holden's downlake properties are located

    • by fermion ( 181285 )
      400K is only like $60 per month per user over 10 years for 100 users.

      I bet a traditional co-op could make this happen for $100-$200 per user per month, what some people spend on cable.

      As in most cases, this has little to do with lack of access, but the lack of willing pay for access. People who are willing to pay do have access. For example, in developing country people live high on mountains where access is difficult. Some of these people have their own cell phone repeaters.

  • Cellular is getting a lot better.

    • by Aaden42 ( 198257 )
      More than a few of the places that can't get decent wired also can't get more than EDGE / 2G cellular, IF that.
    • Enjoy paying $30 per PC for Internet data transfer quota overages at $10 per GB when your PCs all decide to automatically download a 3 GB semiannual operating system feature upgrade.

  • What might get interesting is that for some newly constructed homes, there's one choice or zero choices of broadband too.

    At least new homes aren't being built with copper phone service, so no dialup, and if a cable company doesn't pick up the slack, you'll find no broadband other than cellular available.

    • by orlanz ( 882574 )

      When I bought my home a few years back, all it started with was slow DSL/dial up. Comcast said they would be in about 12 months after the community was built. Luckily I was one of the last to be built. They actually got in early at around 8 months. They dug up the entire neighborhood and laid the lines. Prices were average for the first year and then shot up. Then AT&T came in around the 36 month mark, dug up the neighborhood a 3rd time, and installed fiber. And we are in a semi-major city; almos

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I've lived in one of these "underserved" rural areas for almost a decade, and have become something of an expert in non-traditional internet options. I've had fixed microwave (Rise Broadband), mobile cellular (Verizon Mifi, Sprint), fixed cellular (Verizon LTE installed), and currently have Viasat satellite. With the exception of Rise Broadband (which was horrible), all of the options worked reasonably well (stable, speeds consistently north of 10Mbps) and would be defined as broadband.

    For this article to

  • Jeez! Only 20 years ago, I had to use an acoustic-coupler modem strapped to a payphone handset to get e-mail.

  • Corporations (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DaMattster ( 977781 ) on Tuesday April 17, 2018 @01:26PM (#56453225)
    This is the problem when we let corporations run things. They only go to areas that are going to be profitable. We even let the corporations determine what percentage constitutes coverage. And then, when we decide to subvert the corporations and go at it ourselves, said corporations hold up these efforts in the court system.
    • While I sort of agree--laws preventing communities from running their own broadband service are ridiculous--there's also a point where "getting away from it all" includes boadband as part of "all". If somebody chooses to live in the middle of nowhere, we as a society shouldn't be expected to foot the bill to run 20 miles of fiber to their home. (I'm not saying your advocating for this)

      Cellular can cover a lot of these cases, and truly remote areas can use satellite. Not a great solution for watching Ne
    • by Anonymous Coward

      This is why we have governments. The same thing happened with electricity.

  • Meanwhile, here's what the good people at the FCC are up to:

    https://boingboing.net/2018/04... [boingboing.net]

  • Well in any case you *should* be able to live just fine without access to broadband. Unfortunately more and more companies seem to think that if you don't have broadband access you're not worth dealing with. But I digress...

    My mother in-law still only has dial up internet. At best she gets 56K speeds although I sometimes doubt it's better than 28K, but she seems to survive just fine. She can still use e-mail when she absolutely has to, but does everything else 'the old fashioned way'. No broadband, n
    • Unfortunately more and more companies seem to think that if you don't have a cell phone, you're not worth dealing with.

      I'd be happy going back to dial up. Almost everything I do is text and if not, I'm in no hurry and can schedule larger downloads for overnight or whenever.

  • Internet =/= Broadband
    Lacking broadband does not mean lacking internet access.

    Not everyone wants/needs broadband internet access, many/most do, but to just blanket assume that everyone wants/needs broadband internet is just wrong.

  • "towns like Orleans, California, have started their own nonprofit internet services instead."

    I live in Missouri where AT&T, Comacast,... have (made campaign contributions | paid off | bribed) the state legislature so communities aren't able to create their own internet.

    https://motherboard.vice.com/e... [vice.com]
  • I live very rural and have broadband, but I know a lot of people who don't because they don't have electricity (it's all off grid) and can't afford or understand how to hook up a few solar panels.
  • 91748 zip code [goo.gl] not far from downtown Los Angeles. It's unincorporated - informally called Rowland Heights, but not a city. Services are provided by the county government (Los Angeles County). It's fairly close to Newegg's HQ (City of Industry) so by no means is it in the sticks. The county awarded Verizon the local phone monopoly, and Time Warner the local cable monopoly. Large portions of the community are low-income, so Time Warner never bothered laying out cable to many areas.

    Verizon was thus lef
  • And we still haven't heard from the guy who claims that everyone in Seattle is on dialup. You're dropping the ball, dude!

  • They keep lowering the definition of "broadband" and keep excusing companies for not supplying what customers pay for.

    Meanwhile, in civilized countries, they're getting 90 mbps - 500 gbps rates in remote country villages halfway up the sides of mountains or in remote hills. For a fraction of the price. Which goes to show it's not about the money, it's about the profit the companies want to sponge off you.

  • If somebody lives remote in the boonies, in a swamp (Shrek), or on a mountain, chances are they picked it precisely because it was away from civilization. They aren't complaining about lack of Internet any more than they complain about an hour drive to buy groceries. Unless they are farmers (for which there should be an exception, because I thank them daily for providing us food), we really shouldn't care.

    If you are a farmer with acres of beans or a ranch raising cattle so I can eat steak, then yes, we sh

    • +1 I know a lot of people exactly like this (lot's of ex-woodstock, deadheads getting away from evil corporations). Most have little interest in the internet. We do have pretty good broadband though.
  • It was a lot like living in England without broadband. It sucked.

    No longer an issue. I simply refuse to live anywhere it is not available.

    Now if I had to do so I'll do what I did when deployed to the desert. I brought my kindle fire with me, downloaded everything I wanted to watch when I could find a hotspot that wasn't being overused, and simply gave up on all the rest. You tend to read ALOT of books, limit your surfing to buying things, and use IM or email a lot more instead of video or voice ca
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Hopefully Space X is successful in rolling out their Starlink satellite internet service over the next few years; that should make broadband available to everyone in the US; and can probably be expanded to other countries as well. Starlink's plan has a huge advantage over existing satellite internet in that they intend to put up thousands of satellites in LEO, so it won't have the latency or bandwidth issues existing GEO internet satellites have. I know they just launched their first test satellites like

  • I can not get cable Internet but yet here I am. If you can see the sky you too can have a form of broadband. Eighty dollars a month gets me 50 GiB of supposedly 30 Mb satellite Internet service. Hughes Net does throttle YouTube but with a little buffering I can watch them. My Firestick works fine, as long as I don't stream more than an hour and a half a day.

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