I was trying to log into a Zoom meeting a few days ago.  My i-Pad had run out of charge, a thing I should admittedly have checked the day before.  It was so dead, I couldn’t even charge it enough for the meeting.  My phone, nearly dead by the end of what became a phone conference, wouldn’t charge without making that ‘bing’ noise repeatedly (which everyone could hear), no matter how much lint I dug out of the charging port.   It all reminded me of how we’re becoming more and more dependent on meeting and working remotely.  But there are challenges even greater than my own technical incompetence.  (Which is daunting to say the least.)

Chief among those challenges?  Internet connectivity.  What’s that you say?  Why not just use my blazing fast connection the way everyone on the commercials does?  Not so fast there sparky.

The fact that my Zoom meeting turned into a phone meeting was really a win.   My rural WiFi is awful. It makes me long for the golden days of dial-up; hot spot and satellite dish aside.

My children, at least the three who are still in college, can’t do school from home for this very reason. Functional Internet connections for the Leap kids, and untold others across the country, are precious, costly, and limited to urban areas.

The weird thing about all this is that because of COVID-19, we’re constantly reminded to stay home, work from home, study from home and relax from home using our wonderful 5G Internet.  And yet, so many people do not, and will not, have Internet speeds that are up to the task.

The following link shows what appears to be a lot of 5G, but underneath all of those bright circles on the map are lots of  ‘no 5G.’

https://www.digitaltrends.com/mobile/5g-availability-map/

This is all problematic.  And it continues to illustrate the urban/rural divide.  Vast areas of America have Internet connections that are simply unmanageable.  They are insufficient for online games.  (Downloading game at our house literally takes days. The same process with good Internet takes minutes.)  But games aren’t the big problem, no matter what dedicated gamers may believe.

The problem is, well, everything else.  Since offices and businesses have limited hours, many transactions have to occur online.  From continuing education for a workplace to virtual visits to physicians, from grade school to college classes, the fundamental belief by policy-makers in America is that it’s all as simple as jumping on that device and joining the rest of the wired world.  do some school work!  Make a video!  Stream some Netflix!  Quarantine is wonderful as long as we have the online world!

The reality is rough.  Zoom meetings can be nearly impossible to follow due to lagging audio and video. Virtual medical visits may not load.  College classes are not only difficult but tests taken online can disconnect, losing a student’s progress mid-exam.  Weather often interrupts cellular connections.  Cable is wonderful but in many places rare, and as I understand it cable companies aren’t interested in spending more money on cable in an increasingly wireless market.

It has been said that the world will be permanently changed by COVID-19. And that’s probably true on any number of levels. But if ever-increasing safety is indeed the goal, and if the “powers that be” desire social distancing in business, education and entertainment via the Web, then those same powers will have to address the disparity in Internet coverage.

No more kicking the can down the road.  Too much of America has two cans, with a piece of string in between, by comparison to the Internet speeds available to some, but not all citizens.  Like it or not, we depend on the Internet.  Maybe for too many things, and certainly to the detriment of our mental health; but the “ship has sailed.”

Those who happily surf at blinding speeds and don’t understand why everyone else isn’t doing the same need to recognize the limitations placed on the rest of the world.  All of those lovely commercials where everyone does everything all the time on their devices are a distant dream for lots of citizens.

I’m not asking for Internet as a right, and I’m not asking for anything free. But without question, America has to rise to the occasion (the occasion being a pandemic) and set up the infrastructure for the entire country to have proper connections, whether you’re in the Upper East Side or in Rattlesnake Skull Arizona.

The current disparity is going to hurt lots of people, and nobody more than children expected to learn online but who simply can’t make it work with the connections they have now.

Because at this rate, by the time we have 5G, everybody else will have 10G.  And flying cars.

I don’t need a flying car. But I’d sure like to be able to load a web-page without having time to get up, get a new drink, do some pushups and load the dish-washer.

Edwin

 

 

 

 

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