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TECH TOYS: Readers vent about the lack of high-speed broadband in rural areas

LAST WEEK’S column on Verizon increasing upload speeds for free frustrated some area readers who live in areas that still don’t have access to high-speed broadband.

Robert Thomas of Spotsylvania County said in an email:

“When covering the improvement of broadband in this area, please keep in mind the refusal of the major companies to provide broadband or any service at all to rural areas. My house is just a few hundred yards off Spotswood Furnace Road, which does get service, but nothing for us except low capacity satellite service.”

They asked why local officials aren’t forcing Internet providers to cover them.

Years ago, well-intended state efforts to open up and increase competition between broadband providers essentially removed localities’ ability to say no when a provider requests a franchise. That negated their power to require them to provide service to areas with the fewest rooftops. Concessions companies have made in recent years have been purely for good will.

However, Virginia U.S. Sen. Mark Warner helped push through bipartisan federal legislation in February to protect federal funding that would expand access to rural broadband to those who are underserved or unserved, and setting the minimum acceptable level of broadband service at 4 mbps download and 1 mbps upload. Unfortunately, that’s not exactly speedy.

“It’s an embarrassment that in America in 2014, there are still more than 18 million people without broadband access, and more than 75 percent of those customers live in rural areas,” Sen. Warner said at the time

Robert Northrup, who moved from Montgomery County, Md. to Thornburg, said in an email, “the one thing I miss most is the cable Internet. I live on a road with about 12 houses and we are not served by any wire line cable provider.

He said that without high-speed broadband access:

“You can’t listen to Pandora, you can’t subscribe to Netflix, you can’t use Apple TV, you can’t use Roku, you can’t watch YouTube, you can’t play games, you can’t use Skype, you can’t use Go To Meeting, you can’t run a real business with a good website, you can’t participate in any new technologies or opportunities that require any serious amount of bandwidth or data transfer.”

Northrup said: “using satellite is a total waste of time and money—you get nothing at all, nada, not even close [compared even to] Verizon Wireless which has adequate speed for most, but not all, of these applications, but with a 30 GB maximum cap The cable guys provide 300 GB. That’s 10 times the best available solution.”

He said the only viable alternative to Comcast or Verizon or Google is Verizon Wireless’ Home Fusion service, which captures wireless network service and acts as a Wi–Fi router, providing 4G speeds.

“However,” he said, “they impose a 30 GB data cap, which renders most of the commercial use and fun of using the Internet useless,” Northrup said. “The satellite providers are completely useless for anything other than email and Web surfing.

Having guests over to his house is awkward, he said, because you “can’t allow them onto your Wi–Fi system. Your guests can’t use a computer, they can’t use their smartphone. You just don’t have the extra data laying around to connect them to your system and the ‘bars’ sometimes don’t allow their smartphones to work well enough to use.”

In the coming weeks, we’ll take a closer look at the problems some in our area are having with high-speed broadband service. If you’d like to share your thoughts, please send me an email.

Michael Zitz lives in Spotsylvania County.