Friday, April 18, 2014

Rural broadband – where’s the truth?

I thought about a month ago I saw a pro and con about rural broadband in the Duluth News Tribune.  Those two opinions were the catalyst for this article.  But I can’t find them!

As I remember them, one was gung ho that rural areas are underserved by broadband access, and the other was that government should not be involved in providing a frill.  The latter indicated people should move into town if they need Internet access.

Knowing that my dial-up speed in Brimson had been 25kbps, almost unusable for today’s Internet, I was sympathetic to the first view.  As for government involvement, there has been much government activity to insure better access to many modern conveniences now considered necessities.

Are you old enough to remember RFD as part of addresses?  RFD stands for rural free delivery.  Instead of going to a post office for their mail, rural residents could get their mail at the end of their driveway.

Few of us can remember REA, the Rural Electrification Act or Administration.  It both provided jobs for unemployed electricians and it made life more comfortable for rural residents.  This was financed in part by government loans.

Do you remember all the rural gravel roads?  My dad bought property outside Cleveland, probably about 1941.  When my pregnant wife and I visited him in 1962 the last two roads were still gravel.  By the time both our kids were in school, all the nearby roads were paved with asphalt.

On our first visit to Brimson in 1987, many of the roads were gravel.  Over the years many of them have been upgraded to asphalt.  Only the road to our cabin is gravel.

To us as weekend residents, electricity, telephone, and good roads are a plus.  To people who live there, these are a necessity.

And to us who don’t live there, the people that do are a necessity.  Think of all the benefits that we wouldn’t have if some people didn’t live in the country.

Where would our food come from?  Would we be able to grow all our food in our backyards or on our apartment rooftops?

Where would our wood products come from?  Do you think loggers are going to commute to cut trees?

If we go out in the country to hunt, fish, or just loaf, who is going to provide the food and beverages we forgot to bring.  Shall the store owners commute?

What if our cabins catch fire or we have a medical emergency?  Should the volunteer firefighters and first responders commute to help us?  Response time is much better if these people live within a few miles of the fire hall.

Because these people chose to live in rural areas, should they be deprived of good roads, postal service, electricity, and Internet?  How would you like to communicate with the fishing resort you plan to visit?  Internet or carrier pigeon?

Getting back to my search for articles and letters.

As I was typing this in Duluth, I was waiting for my iPad to open up the full-page version of the Duluth News Tribune.  The little gear spun and spun and…  This is “high-speed” Internet in the city?  I turned the iPad off and on and voila!  I wanted to check back issues for the articles I sought.  Unfortunately, the full pages available only went back to March 31.  What I sought had to be before that.

The Star Tribune full-page version was available back to March 15.  The first letter of interest, March 17, was from telecommunications executives complaining about, you guessed it, taxes.

The March 20 issue had an editorial “Grab opportunity for state broadband fund: Greater Minnesota’s future depends on high-speed Internet access”.  It gave examples of people who live outside the metro area and depend on internet access.  These people came to the capitol to “plead for help in improving Internet access”.  They wanted a chance “to survive economically in the 21st century.”

I did gasp a bit when the article stated that one of them couldn’t compete with 12Mbps.  He does have a signage business that will need to send lots of images.  But 12Mbps per second is something I dream about.

One of the resources I wanted to check was the final report of Minnesota’s High-Speed Broadband Task Force.  You can find it at

Well, well, sitting at my computer in Duluth with a nominal 7Mbps download speed, I watched the download indicator practically stand still for the 3.8MB download.  I then emailed the file to myself to more easily read it on my iPad.  That too was very slow. According to an Ookla speedtest, I was only getting 0.53Mpbs upload and 2.60 download.

According to the Ookla net index, Japan has average speeds of 42.0 Mbps download and 29.3 upload, mobile is 11.7/4.9.  If you live in Tokyo, you can get a great deal – download speed on fiber of 100 Mbps at $30.47 (The Cost of Connectivity –  For mobile it will cost you more for less: 40 Mbps for $33.97!  Oh, yes, Japanese internet is almost completely private with few government restrictions.

We are paying about $30 for our nominal 7Mbps!

At our cabin where we used to struggle with 25Kpbs, I can get 7 to 10 Mbps with my cell phone.  This weekend I used it as a hotspot and my wife and I each read newspapers with our iPads.  The cost per month?  For the phone and usage charges: $28.50 plus taxes etc.  This is with Consumer Cellular who gives me the cost of each service (except for taxes and fees).

Kyle Ackerman, owner of  Xtratyme Technologies, wrote that rural areas do have access; his article was in the Star Tribune about April 8.  You can find it and reader comments at

Remember my column “Free Market in Telecommunications?”  Guess what? does not give pricing!

This article is also posted at