The new New Deal
August 8, 2016 2:29 PM   Subscribe

 
The same rural telephone cooperative that brought the telephone to my great grandparents' North Dakota homesteads is the same coooerative that brought high speed fiber to my parents' house. It's both cheaper and faster than what I can get from Comcast in the middle of a major metro area.
posted by nathan_teske at 2:45 PM on August 8, 2016 [16 favorites]


A few years ago, the government gave out a bunch of grants to libraries, community centers, etc., to get more more public computers where people could access the internet and more trainers who knew how to help new internet users. At the time, I thought that they'd kind of put the cart before the horse--shouldn't actually making broadband available everywhere be the first step? Now that we're finally building the horse, we shouldn't forget about the cart.
posted by roll truck roll at 2:48 PM on August 8, 2016 [5 favorites]


Self-link
posted by roll truck roll at 2:50 PM on August 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


Bolt’s efforts have gotten a federal boost. In June, it won $4.3 million from the F.C.C. to connect about 6,000 homes in four northeast Oklahoma counties to faster internet service than what’s available in most big cities.

It's kind of like how rural electrification worked, if the hinterlands were lit up like Christmas trees while everyone in the cities got by with a single bare lightbulb.
posted by indubitable at 2:52 PM on August 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


Reminds me of a road trip I took about a decade ago across the rural plains. I stopped in Mullen, Nebraska (population around 500, only town in the 700+ square mile county) to look around, and wandered into the Hooker County Historical Museum to look around.

Turned out the museum wasn't officially open yet, but a nice older gentleman (Mr. Franklin, I think?) showed me around anyway. It was an old hotel, and they were in the process of furnishing and decorating each room to reflect a different period of Hooker County's history. It was a labor of love for the folks in the local Historical Society, and it was actually pretty goddam cool.

Mr. Franklin, who'd been born in a freaking sod house, told me Mullen hadn't got "the electric" until "oh, I guess around 1955 or so." Anyway, he said, it wasn't until about ten years after he got back to Mullen from the ship he served on in the Pacific during WWII.

I wonder if Mr. Franklin is still alive and in Mullen, and what he thinks of broadband internet.
posted by dersins at 3:06 PM on August 8, 2016 [14 favorites]


The idea that somehow Internet is just too difficult to build infrastructure for after spreading telephone and electricity to almost every home in America is a terrible joke. Imagine if power companies in the early 20th century had the same attitude as cable companies who refuse to extend their lines an inch past the point they deem the profit margins too narrow.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 3:08 PM on August 8, 2016 [18 favorites]


I live in one of those unserved rural areas. Both AT&T and Comcast refuse to run a wire another mile down the road, and since they are the duopoly, tough luck. Fortunately we have a local wireless ISP and I get 12Mbps via a radio link. It's nowhere near as good as wired, but I'm grateful. Another local ISP is working on laying fiber with federal grants but it will take many years.

The best analysis I've ever read on why US broadband sucks comes from the CEO of Sonic, a Bay Area independent ISP which is awesome. tl;dr: Michael Powell sold Americans out on false promises of 5 different media for broadband. Turns out only 2 really work.
posted by Nelson at 4:44 PM on August 8, 2016 [13 favorites]


Last year CenturyLink used some of the $3 billion, from the Feds, running fiber optic cable up the highway nearest my place. After watching them lay 25 mi. down and excitedly pricing the 10 MbS service ($40/mo), they stopped at the county seat 4 miles away. I hear the library is very happy after switching from Mediacom. Verizion Wireless is still $100 for 18 gig here.
posted by ridgerunner at 6:35 PM on August 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


The idea that somehow Internet is just too difficult to build infrastructure for after spreading telephone and electricity to almost every home in America is a terrible joke.

I work for a new england telecom company, that covers Maine among other NE states. Reaching our rural customers isn't a "oh we're not making enough profit" it's that we're losing literally thousands of dollars per customer we reach. Some of this has to do with the technology we use, but most of it has to due with the distance and the equipment required.

Electrical power and telephone isn't a fair analogy to broadband. Fiber cable is more expensive than copper. You need many, many more remote terminals than you need power substations. And they are a lot more expensive. They run anywhere from the 30-80k range and you need to have them every couple of miles.* If you're only servicing 10-30 households on that, there's no return on investment. Ever.

*and that's just the physical equipment for the RT. Not including the poles, cable, and works hours. Also there's most likely a central office upgrade required to handle the additional service, plus two dozen other marginal costs.

There's a lot of problems with internet in America, particularly in our metro areas. But access to broadband in rural areas is really, really difficult and I've never seen an example of any other nation doing exceptionally better than the US when you consider equatable geographical areas. It's hard to cover everyone in a 35,000 square mile state where the vast majority of that is around the 5 to 20 people per square mile. The majority of Midwestern states are even worse off than that.
posted by mayonnaises at 7:52 PM on August 8, 2016 [16 favorites]


I became a little suspicious of bandwidth limits around the time desk/lap tops were transitioning between DVD and USB/Flash external storage, circa 2003-05-- a burnable dvd was, what?, 4.4 GB and the file limit-size on non-journaled external drives was about the same, FAT32, the standard with greater implementation. And, yes, I'm sure there's a more plausible and technical explanation than my barely checked suspicions...

But I fully donned a tin-foil hat on this matter when I starting working abroad...
There was no way in hell the speeds provided in places like Korea would be allowed to American teenagers who had already developed a culture of trading/burning for some time. The battle began with Napster and Bit-torrents played out the struggle of IP interests until the present scenario of most torrenting for recent titles, but a scarcity of older ones...

I know it's crazy talk, but I feel it in my bones, that copyright holders would not tolerate a youthful culture of rapid and hassle-free trading until achieving the "cloud" and subscription model they have...

And to tie on another onion...the mobile platform culture of apps are predicated on the default of staying connected (large databases kind of need it) but I'm experiencing that default in terms of retaining content that's tiny in terms of memory...Oh, you can't have that because it's a variable to be monitored...

But the new model is a new frontier of what I heard designers/programmers term some time ago: On the fly. Every interaction, every keystroke, must be crunched in real time all the time in this age of users being the product.

I've read about the Last Mile for a long time as many of us have...even when the costs of physical apparatus are "profitable" the excuses of limits and caps ensues...Moving electrons (in terms of heat and energy) might be as arduous as water...but I dunno, I'm suspicious.
/rant
posted by lazycomputerkids at 8:03 PM on August 8, 2016


I work for a new england telecom company, that covers Maine among other NE states. Reaching our rural customers isn't a "oh we're not making enough profit" it's that we're losing literally thousands of dollars per customer we reach. Some of this has to do with the technology we use, but most of it has to due with the distance and the equipment required.

I work for the community-owned company that got tired of no service and antiquated DSL that was being subsidized by the state and instead designed and built a vibrant FTTH service for all those underserved rural people who were tired of being told it was too far and too expensive to build.

We've grown 14% since last October as we sign up more and more PEOPLE who need real broadband to do their jobs or school work.
posted by terrapin at 5:09 AM on August 9, 2016 [6 favorites]


Some years back, I spent a summer working for the USDA Rural Utilities Service Telecommunications Program, which disburses loans and grants on favorable terms to build internet/telecom infrastructure in underserved rural areas. For an agency that grew out of the Rural Electrification Act of 1936 and that distributes billions in loans and grants every year, it's criminal how little-known it is.

They're a small office, but the staff is eager to put this money into worthwhile, qualifying projects and really do some good for people. If you or someone you know wants to build or expand your area's internet/telecom service like terrapin's company, give them a call!
posted by Grimp0teuthis at 7:39 AM on August 9, 2016 [4 favorites]


somehow Internet is just too difficult to build infrastructure for after spreading telephone and electricity to almost every home in America

I wonder if conservatives' opposition to "big government" (in this sense of the term) was as strong in 1916 as it is in 2016.
posted by splitpeasoup at 7:47 AM on August 9, 2016


Just moved back to suburban Atlanta after spending the last 12 years on an island in rural Japan. My internet on that island was fibre-optic...Google Fibre speeds...at a fairly reasonable price. Suburban Atlanta? HAHHAHAHA...sob...HAHAHAHA! Despite being in the middle of the Atlanta suburbs, there is no fibre infrastructure here. The fastest I can get from the 2 providers available is 60MBs DSL. My house, because my parents are kinda clueless about the internet, is currently under a 3MBs plan that costs more than the slowest plans offered by the big 2 (6MBs). Laughable.
posted by snwod at 7:51 AM on August 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


Is there any reason not to nationalize the telecommunications industry, and make it a public utility?
posted by Rainbo Vagrant at 2:03 PM on August 9, 2016


Imagine if power companies in the early 20th century had the same attitude as cable companies who refuse to extend their lines an inch past the point they deem the profit margins too narrow.

Well, to be fair, a lot of them did have that attitude. Efforts to bring electricity to the Texas Hill Country against the objections of profit-motivated electricity companies were an early political success for Lyndon Johnson, for instance.
posted by bonaldi at 5:17 PM on August 9, 2016


Yeah, that's what the entire article is about: Not only the parallels between the two situations, but the fact that the laws still on the books from the electricity thing are turning out to be handy for addressing this issue.

It is actually fairly short even. It wouldn't take very long for people to read it prior to commenting.
posted by Michele in California at 5:38 PM on August 9, 2016 [2 favorites]


Fiber will go 50-60 miles these days without repeaters. Fiber is still not exactly cheap to work with; tools that used to cost $10-15 k are now 'only' a few thousand. The bigger deal is easements, right of way, and (not) having to rent space on the utility poles, so if the electric utility co-op is up for installing broadband Internet, great! The incumbent suburban monolpolies aren't going to do anything without being forced to.
posted by fragmede at 4:44 AM on August 10, 2016


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