I had a big smile as I read Brandon Grasley’s comment to my post yesterday. I didn’t realize that my comment about losing internet access two days in a row would inspire his comments. But I learned that we both live in what the internet would call a limited fly zone or “rural”.
Now, when I was growing up, a few of my friends lived in what would be my traditional view of rural.
You got there by taking a county or township road, turn at the mailbox (do a favour by picking up mail if the flag was up or the box was turned), and then driving down the lane with corn fields on either side or beans if the crops had been rotated that particular year. You park in a big gravel area and then head into the house. Every farmer had a blade for their tractor and they were responsible for clearing their own lane in the winter. That’s my definition of rural.
Now, being connected or not being connected makes rural take on a new meaning. From my house, I can see our local community, buildings from a community in Southeast Michigan, and the local elementary school. Yet, being connected here doesn’t have the huge set of options that being literally half a concession road away would.
Just down the road, and it’s well marked by my dog on our morning walks, DSL is a reality. When the school board implemented a fast Wide Area Network, cable internet access was pulled to the elementary school. If we walk by, my smart phone can actually see the networks being broadcast. I wonder if I still have an account there?
And yet, when we get home, the options are limited. But, they certainly are much better than they used to be. In the good ol’ days, we paid for a second telephone line. On that line, I ran a BBS for the public with a private area for my students. In the evenings, we could take down the BBS and dial in to a service provider and go online. It was blistering fast with my USRobotics modem.
Of course, blistering fast is time dependent. You couldn’t survive with those speeds today. But, apparently, from the roof of my house, you can see a communications tower about 8km away. On a good day, I can get speeds close to 3MB down and .5MB up. This is light speed compared to the good ol’ days. When I purchased the service, I also purchased an extended capacity package since I knew that my wife and kids would be connected and using data. We wanted to avoid overages.
It sounds like my package is more robust than what Brandon enjoys. With his tiers in 5GB increments, he’d be in the second tier if he was doing a task like downloading the Mac OS X upgrade I did yesterday.
So, in a way, it was comfortable knowing that I’m not the only one that has to look for alternatives for big downloads, like an OS upgrade. It’s a shame that this is not recognized by the internet or the content providers. Most software and media these days are available only by download; the concept of going to a store and buying traditional media is all but gone. Apparently, Apple does encourage you to visit their store to use their network. I’d only have to go to the north end of London to do it. There are some places in the community that offer free internet access but filter out access to online stores. I totally understand that; often the access is provided as a courtesy not for some rural guy trying to download an upgrade from the Google Play store.
I know that I’ve been in conversations with folks about the inequities of connectivity. It’s usually framed from the student perspective and the answer typically is to visit the local library or stay after school. And yet, it’s not just the student. As Brandon notes, he takes advantage of his district’s BYOD policy. I know that I used to go into work on weekends to get major jobs done. These days, I go to my daughter’s place.
While the whole suite of options isn’t available to everyone, they are most certainly better than they used to be. Those that draft policy defining just what connected means need to consider the implications of all those affected. We don’t all live in downtown Toronto!
I had a colleague once who encouraged everyone to think without boundaries. She was fond of asked “Doug, if you were the King of the World, what would you do?” In the connected forum, I think I’d pour research and development into providing “internet over electricity” and then making it a commercial product.
Wouldn’t that go a long way towards achieving equity?