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Rural internet access in a pandemic — how are ISPs doing?

Rural internet access in a pandemic — how are ISPs doing?

United States – Internet service providers (ISPs) have undoubtedly adapted during the pandemic. As many transitioned to work-from-home, children also temporarily moved to online schooling. Traditionally, ISPs concentrate their resources, infrastructure, and business in urban areas. Have rural communities suffered because of this, and has this changed during the pandemic?

Current Affairs Times spoke to a contractor in the internet systems space to learn more about rural internet access. This contractor, who wishes to remain anonymous, believes ISPs are providing the best internet access they can for rural America. They say the installation of fiber optics in sparsely-populated communities does wonders for internet speeds. However, not every rural community has fiber optics installed, nor can they necessarily afford to install fiber optics.

In addition, the contractor says it requires money to upgrade rural infrastructure — less people using the infrastructure means more money to regulate it. In essence, the infrastructure must be cost-effective for ISPs to invest in smaller communities.

Rural America support COVID-19 assistance from ISPs
How will infrastructure in rural America support COVID-19 assistance from ISPs? Image Credit:
Wireless Internet Service Providers Association

But those investments are complicated by outdated infrastructure in rural America. The contractor we spoke to said this infrastructure dates back several decades. Financially, it is difficult for rural ISPs to keep up with upgrades to the system. Additionally, rural communities proportionally utilize less of the same infrastructure than those in cities. Financially, the ISP return on investment is not as great from rural communities.

The contractor says ISPs don’t have any prejudice towards smaller communities, “it’s just the laws and economics…[ISPs are] trying the best they can.” The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) would agree — they assert ISPs have “gone above and beyond.” Many companies like AT&T and Verizon contributed financially and technologically so Americans can afford their internet bills this year.

Despite corporate commitments to their customers, that doesn’t always mean Americans can access those benefits. For customers without fiber optics installed, increased broadband speeds may not be logistically possible within rural infrastructure. Additionally, people in rural areas with spotty cellular service may not even benefit from bonuses like unlimited data. It’s not always possible for cable and internet infrastructure in rural communities, to support these offerings.

ISPs offered many services to customers during the pandemic. But in rural America, are those services enough to actually boost their internet accessibility?

Thumbnail Credit: Jon Reed/Unsplash (images may be subject to copyright)

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Lead developer and editor; legal/political reporter for the Current Affairs Times. World traveler. Mac 'n' cheese lover.

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