Sunday, November 13, 2016

The Web Flies or Crawls, Depending on Where You Live

Here's inequality at its most basic: Nationwide, high-speed broadband service is available to almost twice as many wealthy neighborhoods as poor ones, according to The Center for Public Integrity, an investigative journalism web site. 

There's a practical reason. Broadband signals piggyback along telephone lines. The signal fades with every mile it travels, so the provider needs pricey equipment to boost it. They make that investment in wealthier neighborhoods, where more customers are presumably willing pay extra for faster service. 

It makes perfect business sense -- except that high-speed internet service is being reclassified as a utility, an FCC decision affirmed in June by a Washington, DC federal court. Utilities have a responsibility to provide service to everyone who needs it, no matter how shallow their pockets. 

There's more legal wrangling to come, but in effect, DSL providers are going to have to up their technology game in neighborhoods like Washington, PA, a town south of Pittsburgh. In pricey neighborhoods there, "the speeds goes up to 150 Mbps over fiber-optic cable," wrote authors Allan Holmes and Ben Wieder in October 2016. "[DSL service in] the surrounding areas reaches 15 Mbps." 

The FCC defines high-speed internet as 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload. 

It's only one example. "The largest noncable internet providers [AT&T, Verizon] collectively offer faster speeds to about 40 percent of the population they serve nationwide in wealthy areas compared with just 22 percent of the population in poor areas," the article continues. It's about 27 percent in middle-income neighborhoods. 

Cable technology should be more egalitarian: The signal doesn't degrade much as over long distances. On the other hand, cable service isn't available everywhere either.

The New York Times, June 14, 2016: "Court Backs Rules Treating Internet as Utility, Not Luxury," by Cecilia Kang
The Center for Public, October 14, 2016: "DSL Providers Save Faster Internet for Wealthier Communities," by Allan Holmes and Ben Weider

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