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Stats Businesses Government The Internet United States

Should The Government Fix Slow Internet Access? (fivethirtyeight.com) 315

An anonymous reader quotes a story from Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight site about "the worst internet in America": FiveThirtyEight analyzed every county's broadband usage using data from researchers at the University of Iowa and Arizona State University and found that Saguache, Colorado was at the bottom. Only 5.6 percent of adults were estimated to have broadband... It has some of the worst internet in the country. That's in part because of the mountains and the isolation they bring... Its population of 6,300 is spread across 3,169 square miles 7,800 feet above sea level, but on land that is mostly flat, so you can almost see the full scope of two mountain ranges as you drive the county's highway...

But Saguache isn't alone in lacking broadband. According to the Federal Communications Commission, 39 percent of rural Americans -- 23 million people -- don't have access. In Pew surveys, those who live in rural areas were about twice as likely not to use the internet as urban or suburban Americans.

In Saguache County download speeds of 12 Mbps (with an upload speed of 2 Mbps) cost $90 a month, and the article points out that when it comes to providing broadband, "small companies and cooperatives are going it more or less alone, without much help yet from the federal government." But that raises an inevitable question. Should the federal government be subsidizing rural internet access?
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Should The Government Fix Slow Internet Access?

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  • by Spazmania ( 174582 ) on Sunday July 30, 2017 @02:39PM (#54909833) Homepage

    Before Clinton converted it in to a "laptops for schools" program, the Universal Service Fund was used to fund telephone lines in rural America where the cost was too high. It worked: telephones became ubiquitous. The Universal Service Fund should be restored to its original purpose with the simple tweak: fund the initial builds for broadband Internet access in rural America.

    • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

      by ChrisMaple ( 607946 )
      At the federal level, make it illegal for every government at every level to prevent or hinder the growth of the internet. No licenses, no franchises. No prohibitions based no zoning (But cell towers are ugly!). Get the government the hell out of the internet.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Right. Then, when every provider has to negotiate individually with every property owner where they need to install a pole or dig a trench, things will be great? And then when one stubborn owner in a critical location refuses to allow lines across their property, an entire neighborhood will be denied any sort of internet access at all. And it'll be even better when small providers can't even begin to cover the costs of even the smallest rollout due to all the rent-seeking property owners who are now dema

        • by s.petry ( 762400 )

          Right. Then, when every provider has to negotiate individually with every property owner where they need to install a pole or dig a trench, things will be great?/p>

          YES! I really can not believe how far people's minds have gone into promoting authoritarianism!

          If I own property it is MY property, and Telecom/broadband companies can't just take what they want because Government. I truly hope that you people claiming they should were not out bashing Trump for trying to take a woman's property for a parking structure, because that would make you a hypocrite.

          And then when one stubborn owner in a critical location refuses to allow lines across their property, an entire neighborhood will be denied any sort of internet access at all.

          We have already reserved massive amounts of land for public use. Roads, and in most cases everything 10' on either

      • by SirSlud ( 67381 )

        Get the government the hell out of the internet.

        Somebody's never heard of the 70/30 rule.

      • I mean, it's worked so well in India, right?

        =Smidge=

    • by GerryGilmore ( 663905 ) on Sunday July 30, 2017 @04:59PM (#54910469)
      You're already at +5, so my mod point won't matter. Therefore, I'll burn the ability to mod to say: Right On! In the same way that: railroads, then the telegraph, paved roads, electricity and - to your comment - telephone service were always rightfully seen as ways to use public money to yield a much greater public good, expanding internet access to all areas is Good(TM). While some yokels may chortle about faster porn, the reality is that NO business will voluntarily locate to an area without decent internet access today. This deprives those areas of an equal opportunity to gain new jobs and grow their economy. As a people, we are not slow learners, just very fast forgetters.
  • No... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Gravis Zero ( 934156 ) on Sunday July 30, 2017 @02:40PM (#54909839)

    They should fine the shit out of the telcos who took billions in subsidies to provide broadband to the nation and then reneged on their end of the deal.

    • Re:No... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by DontBeAMoran ( 4843879 ) on Sunday July 30, 2017 @02:53PM (#54909915)

      Do not only fine them, also cut their tax breaks and everything else that's money-related.

      • Do not only fine them, also cut their tax breaks and everything else that's money-related.

        More importantly, don't only fine the telcos, take back the money! They gave that money to executives in the form of bonuses! Those are stolen assets, the law permits recovering them.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I have a much, much better idea instead of allowing them to bribe the government with a fine that's going to be the equivelant of a slap on the wrist.

      We charge the executive staff with embezzelment and put them in jail for 20 or 30 years.

      That way, they can never do it again.

      • Fines can work; they just need to not be that slap on the wrist. Fine by Days of Profit. Average out their last couple years of net profit, then fine them like 90 DP. Or 180 DP. That will definitely get the shareholders and boards attention. You could even up it; for the most serious, egregious abuses, fine by Days of Revenue. Expanding the prison population with more non-violent criminals isn't the answer, especially when you have a group that will respond to financial pressures. You could fine the board m
    • by houghi ( 78078 )

      They should fix accountability. That would not only solve Internet Speed, but also a shitload of other problems, lice Police violence (Yes, I know they are a minority, yet still more than e.g. terrerists in the US), Flint water, NSA spying on citizens, ...

      The list is almost endless. If there is no accountability, there is no actual law that forbids things.

  • Isolation (Score:2, Informative)

    by cirby ( 2599 )

    So, those people who decided to live way the heck out in the middle of nowhere to get away from civilization need internet access? Why?

    It would probably be cheaper to find the ones who actually want high-speed internet and give them money to move.

    It's hilarious to see these "the US has a lot of people who don't get 10 megabit internet, when compared to other countries," while noticing that the countries they compare us to generally don't have a lot of wide open spaces to cover. There's a whole lot of countr

    • Re:Isolation (Score:4, Interesting)

      by 0100010001010011 ( 652467 ) on Sunday July 30, 2017 @02:45PM (#54909865)

      So, those people who decided to live way the heck out in the middle of nowhere to get away from civilization need electricity? Why?

      So, those people who decided to live way the heck out in the middle of nowhere to get away from civilization need telephones? Why?

      while noticing that the countries they compare us to generally don't have a lot of wide open spaces to cover.

      Then why not compare the other countries to sections of the US where the population distribution looks similar?

      Overlay South Korea on any chunk of the US that has a similar population, why doesn't that area have the speeds SK does? If you toss Germany on top of the Midwest you have similar mix of rural and urban areas, why don't those areas have broadband options that Germany does?

      • South Korea has 51 million people in 38,000 square miles. In the U.S., that density is only achieved with gerrymandering the east coast.

        By way of comparison, California has 39 million people in 163,000 square miles.
        New York State has 19.7 million people in 54,000 square miles.

        • How about Romania? or Poland? because Im paying ~$20 for 250Mbit and my friends from Romania $15 for 1Gbit.
          Asshole of EU has better internet than people living in Manhattan.

          • by swb ( 14022 )

            My guess is the East Bloc countries all had primitive telephone networks until the fall of communism, and cheap and fast data connections are mostly the result of a telecommunications networks re-built from the ground up post-communism.

      • The case in favour of the tax payer providing adequate internet coverage is the same as that of providing education; the next generation should be adequately provided for to ensure they can be part of their society. The fact that the US is making a pig's ear of providing adequate schooling is a reminder that this is an optimistic ideal, but it's worth engaging with.

      • Re:Isolation (Score:4, Insightful)

        by cirby ( 2599 ) on Sunday July 30, 2017 @04:53PM (#54910425)

        As noted in the article, the problem isn't "have internet," but "have cheap and fast internet." Having a handful of people, spread across a large area, does a lot to make cost-effectiveness an issue.

        People way out in the boonies often DON'T have grid electricity - they either use generators or do without, because running a single power line out to a single house twenty miles from anyone is not cost effective. Solar power is also an option. Organizations like the World Bank say that 100% of Americans have electricity, but they really mean "almost 100%."

        Even if those people DO want internet, they can get it, often through satellite services. Basically, the only thing preventing someone out in the middle of nowhere from having reasonably good internet is wanting it - or wanting to pay for it.

        Many people don't. Really. Yes, even in cities.

        A lot of people in remote areas have phone internet, by the way - and those broadband surveys usually don't count that, even though good cell phone connections have pretty fast speeds (I get 50 megabits on my phone in most big cities).

        • Satellite and cellular often don't count because 10 GB per month is still a slow sustained connection, even if it does happen to be burstable to 10 Mbps or more. It's too slow, for example, to support three PCs in a household automatically downloading a feature update for Windows 10 in the month of its release.

        • Basically, the only thing preventing someone out in the middle of nowhere from having reasonably good internet is wanting it - or wanting to pay for it.

          You clearly are not familiar with the scope of the problem.

          A lot of people in remote areas have phone internet, by the way - and those broadband surveys usually don't count that, even though good cell phone connections have pretty fast speeds (I get 50 megabits on my phone in most big cities).

          I live on a paved road which is a loop. People at both ends of the road can get both DSL and cable. I can get neither. My best option is a WISP which charges $99/mo for 90GB at 6/1. The cable company was given an exclusive right of way, but they weren't even required to bring cable to... well, anywhere really. They got to put it wherever they want. That is bullshit. When a cable company or telco gets exclusivity they should be required to cover ever

    • Re:Isolation (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Euroranger ( 5023923 ) on Sunday July 30, 2017 @02:59PM (#54909953)
      I'm sure you'll take equal comfort in that notion should they decide to stop shipping food to you in whatever city it is that you infest, right? I mean, you decided to live way the heck out in the middle of a city to enjoy the fruits of civilization but now want food? Why? See how that works? That said, the government funding something is the worst way to go. They should encourage the existing electric providers (who already have infrastructure in those areas) to add internet access via BPL/PLC. The technology exists, much of the infrastructure is already there...give them lowered tax rates or whatever. However, at base, the government shouldn't have an interest in providing internet access to citizens. It's not a fundamental need (despite what city folk think would happen to their lives if they were without net access for more than an hour). The government can serve a community purpose but needs to encourage the private sector to step up and do it.
      • Re:Isolation (Score:5, Insightful)

        by vux984 ( 928602 ) on Sunday July 30, 2017 @03:43PM (#54910161)

        It's not a fundamental need (despite what city folk think would happen to their lives if they were without net access for more than an hour).

        I disagree. The internet should be considered a basic need.

        It enables communication and participation in civil and political discourse, and facilitates the spread of ideas. And in a society where some have it and some don't the have-nots are missing out on a principle means of participating in government.

        It is also fast becoming the principle means of consuming government services, and accessing government documents. Making inquiries, filing documents, etc.

        Further, it facilitates economic development, by providing an avenue for commerce -- from connecting people with jobs, to being able to source goods and services.

        Finally, it betters social welfare though the availability of information -- from being able to use it to figure out if that spider that just bit you was a brown recluse or a wolf spider. From being able to read up on troubleshooting your furnace, or a tear down guide for your laptop, to how to grow tomatoes, or gut a fish, research a solar installation. etc...

        Government should absolutely be treating internet access like a public utility, and striving to make it available to everyone.

      • by Kjella ( 173770 )

        However, at base, the government shouldn't have an interest in providing internet access to citizens. It's not a fundamental need (despite what city folk think would happen to their lives if they were without net access for more than an hour).

        Where my mother grew up doesn't have running water, much less hot and cold water nor a phone line. It has electricity but I'm sure if you could ask her parents or grandparents they'd say electricity wasn't a fundamental need either. The concept evolves, I'd say any place without internet access lacks fundamental needs in the 21st century. Fortunately there's very few places you got absolutely no mobile/radio/satellite link. Is broadband a fundamental need? Eh, I think that's a much more questionable concept

      • I don't know about the US but in the UK they are trying to move over all of the reporting that farmers have to do to the Internet. I listen to a podcast about farming there and they have interviews every now and again about it. Sometimes people where there's a deadline a farmer will go into the village coffee shop to do their work on their Internet because the Internet on the farm is too slow.

        It's not a fundamental need for them to be checking Twitter or Facebook but the government has made it fundamental f

    • Re:Isolation (Score:4, Informative)

      by LynnwoodRooster ( 966895 ) on Sunday July 30, 2017 @03:13PM (#54910011) Journal
      You are spot on. The biggest country in Western Europe is France, and it falls between the size of California and Texas. Most people simply haven't a clue of the scale of the United States of America, how it is absolutely huge compared to just about everywhere else (Russia and Canada being the only ones bigger than us), and how sparsely populated most of it is. For example, this county in question (Saguache) is nearly 3.5 times the size of Luxembourg. The county has 6300 people, Luxembourg has nearly 10 times that, at 590,000. South Korea is 10 times the size of the county, but has learly 10,000 times (yes, 4 orders of magnitude) the population. Makes construction and deployment of utiities rather difficult!
      • Makes construction and deployment of utiities rather difficult!

        It's not more "difficult" to construct and deploy utilities than in those other places.

        It does make it either non-profitable and/or incredibly expensive, however.

        • Actually, it does. Most of the homes there, apparently run wells and septic - meaning no normal "rights of way" for utlities. Perhaps telephone poles - but then, there's a lot more involved in pulling very, VERY long runs from a CO. Higher density zones typically mean shorter distances from COs or distribution hubs for high speed internet. If you're 25 miles from the CO - good luck getting high speed internet. There needs to be a completel build-out of more COs, meaning power, access, water, and other
          • Perhaps telephone poles - but then, there's a lot more involved in pulling very, VERY long runs from a CO.

            We paid the telcos to do this. Remember Pacific Bell? They promised that all subscribers would have DSL access by 2000. How did that pan out? Instead of pulling some new fiber, AT&T would rather patch the same old shit copper eternally. It can't possibly be cheaper, but that's how they do business.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Makes construction and deployment of utiities rather difficult!

        No, it doesn't. My city-owned electric utility built a fiber network in a few years, at an affordable cost, and everyone in the service area can have high-speed internet at an affordable price. Wasn't hard at all.

        Unfortunately, too many state Legislators are preventing city governments from doing that same thing across the land. They don't give the local community a choice,but impose it from afar.

        See, your problem, LynnwoodRooster, is that you think we're all stupid, and have no ability to recognize the

        • And the density of where you live? Was it around 2 people per square mile> Did it already have regular utlities and power and COs located where everyone was within service distance of such infrastructure?
      • by dave420 ( 699308 )

        What do borders have to do with anything? Even in US cities internet access is often terrible... clearly it's not just about size or density, is it?

      • by mjwx ( 966435 )

        You are spot on. The biggest country in Western Europe is France, and it falls between the size of California and Texas. Most people simply haven't a clue of the scale of the United States of America,

        Hi, I'm Australian, Australia is roughly the size of the continental US and has a much lower population density. We had a workable plan to fibre up most of the country and provide fixed wireless (LTE Advanced) to most rural areas with satalite covering the rest. The requirement was for 12 MBit and the technology could have delivered it.

        Australia called this, the National Broadband Network.

        So you know nothing of scale and nothing about how it isn't a hindrance.

        So what happened to Australia's NBN whi

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      So, those people who decided to live way the heck out in the middle of nowhere to get away from civilization need internet access? Why? It would probably be cheaper to find the ones who actually want high-speed internet and give them money to move.

      I'll bite. I'm a senior software engineer working out of Research Triangle Park - North Carolina. I live about 40 miles from RTP in a "rural" community. Its a neighborhood with multiple large acre lots (5 - 25 acres each). Its about the same time to commute every day as those who live in nearby suburbs (540 towards Falls of Neuse / Apex / etc.) - big difference - I don't have to deal with traffic. All of us CHOSE to live out here to enjoy the lifestyle it offers. Bit more travel time to run to the gro

    • It doesn't require isolation to have poor internet choices. I live 20 miles from the state capitol of California and my only choice is satellite with a 10 GB/month cap or a funky 1 Mb/sec wireless connection that is unreliable. No DSL, no cable available in the area.

      The problem is I live in an area that isn't high density housing. It requires more cable between the homes for a possible customer so the internet providers don't want to touch the area.

  • by ErikTheRed ( 162431 ) on Sunday July 30, 2017 @02:45PM (#54909859) Homepage

    On one hand, they want the government to force their favorite solutions to every problem they can imagine (real or otherwise) down everyone's throats whether the solution actually works or not, or fits individual preferences or not (human differences are to be confined to skin color and what you do with your genitalia; everything else must be plus-plus same). On the other hand, they want everyone (with the exception of people running small, organic farms) to lived in highly-planned (by them), densely-populated urban areas.

    If somebody wants to live out in the sticks, that's their business. Living out in the sticks generally means lower land prices, but most other things are more expensive because you're further away. Let people figure out their own trade-offs.

    • Living out in the sticks generally means lower land prices, but most other things are more expensive because you're further away. Let people figure out their own trade-offs.

      Fine by me, as long as it goes both ways. California has "great weather"? Enjoy it, but keep your hands off our water then.

      • California has "great weather"? Enjoy it, but keep your hands off our water then.

        They already are.

        Arizona built an aqueduct to the Colorado river that is upstream of California's aqueduct. Arizona takes so much water that California can't take much. As a result, virtually all of California's water comes from Northern California.

        Arizona would also like to thank you for blaming California while they build another dozen golf courses near Phoenix.

  • Large telecoms have no interest in solving the problem. Old telephone rules and wire access prevent anyone else from doing it. All the government needs to do is knock down the antiquated rules and companies will come along and fill the gap. Cable companies started as small rural enterprises extending TV coverage to those to far from cities to receive it over the air. If you let new companies access wire right of ways, they will spring up again.
    • by bws111 ( 1216812 )

      Huh? Cable companies started in densely populated rural areas. One of the first places to have cable was Mahanoy City, PA. While it was indeed small (about .5 Sq mi) and rural, it had a population of about 11000. That is the ideal situation for a small company to come in and wire. The place referenced in TFA has an area 6000 times as large, but only 1/3 the population. No small company is going to be able to afford to wire that.

    • Why does everyone in the US think the solution is to string more cable? Just make the existing companies lease out the last mile of the infrastructure to third parties at a small profit. A whole bunch of companies digging up the streets and yards is going to messy and the cities don't want that. Canada has shown that third party ISPs can exist with this model and deliver services that are less expensive than the existing companies. I haven't been with either the telco or cable company in at least 17 years e

  • No. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by argStyopa ( 232550 ) on Sunday July 30, 2017 @03:19PM (#54910049) Journal

    Not the FEDERAL government, certainly. States can enact policies supported by their individual populations however.

    People aren't MANDATED to live in rural areas.
    If they do, one of the 'sacrifices' they have to make is shitty internet service.

    I'm reminded of the bullshit limousine liberals who moved out to western Montana for the low prices, splendid vistas, lack of congestion, and privacy...and then bitched the first winter because the power occasionally went out and nobody came to clear the snow from their 2 mile driveways.

    Life's a series of tradeoffs. It's not the federal government's role to build safety nets for people.

    • I'm not sure how you even got modded to +3, but your lack of knowledge and history is truly breathtaking to behold. No Interstate Highway System! Yay! What? It's a "Safety Net"? Can't have that! Let's go back to using cattle trails - that's show those liberal pussies!
      • I'm not sure how you even got modded to +3, but your lack of knowledge and history is truly breathtaking to behold. No Interstate Highway System! Yay! What? It's a "Safety Net"?

        The irony in you accusing others of lack of knowledge and(of?) history is hilarious!

        The US Interstate Highway System was first and foremost, and remains to this day, a military logistics infrastructure project to be able to more quickly & efficiently move troops and materiel to help mitigate the logistics/transportation problems being such a large nation poses. It's estimated probable commercial/industrial private sector economic benefits during peacetime were also a factor in deciding to go ahead, but

  • DO NOT let the government get any more control on the internet, than they have now. The "slow" internet in the USA, is BECAUSE OF THE SPREAD OUT NATURE of the United States.
    • The "slow" internet in the USA, is BECAUSE OF THE SPREAD OUT NATURE of the United States.

      This is a spectacularly stupid thing to say when even people in big cities in the USA have crap internet access, and it sounds even stupider when we're the nation that invented the goddamned thing. Make America Great Again? Let's make it great once, first.

  • If "government fix" means municipal fiber then definitely yes.
    • Do you think that the cities that can't make the buses run on time or fix the potholes are really going to be able to run an ISP properly?

      • Municipal broadband systems already exist. Their customers report higher satisfaction with their ISP than people served by private companies. So yes, cities can run broadband networks just fine.

        They can also fill potholes just fine if you don't attempt to starve them via tax cuts.

  • FiveThirtyEight - where internet polls = scientific studies. Nope. The question itself is retarded. These problems are because of government.

  • Every week I get call from peopple that think you can run a household with 15 devices off of 50 meg internet. They all say wow I didn't know that everyone is streaming 4k videos on everything it would slow down. We beat out our only competitor in the area and the max I've seen is 15 meg down 512k up. It will take regulation and subsidies that only pass money to small operators to bring the average speed up in this country. It won't happen by giving it to Comcast or any of the other large ISP.

  • At one time, there was a proposal that postal service would ensure every citizen in the USA would receive permanent free-for-life email address at @usps.us or whatever domain would make sense.

    Was a good idea.....free very basic level email (no frills)...the modern equivalent of the original postal service goal of ensuring a minimum ability for people to communicate within the country.

    Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo should have been focusing on enhanced premium email services just like FedEx and UPS do for over

    • Need some not that expensive meds on a regular basis to stay alive....government shouldn't absorb the entire cost, but it should give a good discount so that 60% of population wouldn't be spending very much at all.

      Congratulations on your good health and youth. I hope you don't find out how easy it is to suddenly need expensive meds. Especially as that youth part goes away.

  • Seriously, we already tried federal funding of broadband expansion. All it did was fill the pockets of telecoms; the problem still exists. Why would you expect another attempt to do particularly better? Because Trump's people will do it right?

    If you're going to do anything, don't even consider the supply side at all. Set up a program on the demand side where sufficiently-rural addresses can apply for subsidies toward Internet access. That'll make fundraising for the OneWeb and SpaceX constellations eas

  • If you don't want well water, live near the water infrastructure. If you don't like septic systems, live near the sewer infrastructure. If you want to be out in nature, away from noise and neighbors and somehow enjoy driving 30 minutes to buy anything ever and living dangerously far away from police and fire services then do that. But guess what, the government isn't going to spend $50 million bringing fiber, sewer, and water to your neighborhood of 4 people. You do not pay $50 mil in taxes. If you want int
  • The internet is vital to e-Commerce that accounts for a significant chunk of our economic activity. It should be a public utility in the economic interest of every citizen of this entire country.
  • The government might as well do it because private industry isn't going to as long as they can milk the existing infrastructure.

    So far most of the money the government has given them to expand infrastructure has been gobbled up by contract loopholes rather than laying cables.

  • By fix do you mean repealing all the laws and regulations that prevent competition among ISP/phone/cable companies. Then by all means the gov't should "fix" slow internet speeds.

    If you mean should the gov't subsidize companies to provide you with faster internet service......then in that case no, not only no, but go fuck a running Weed Wacker no.

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