Life in the (Sort of) Fast Lane
Arizona resident Karen Fasimpaur is off the electricity grid but very much connected when it comes to the Internet. Still, living in a remote area required her to make compromises on bandwidth and other options. And she’s one of the lucky ones, she says.
I learned that there are federal standards that classify telephones as a Title II service and assign carriers of last resort, which are required to provide telephone service to any customer that requests it. (Unfortunately, over 20 states have deregulated telephone service, removing requirements for common carriers Title II regulation. This has resulted in public safety and equity challenges in these states, especially for rural areas.
Our local telephone and Internet provider is a small cooperative, which provides services to about 7,000 rural and remote customers in southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico. I’d had no prior experience with rural co-ops (or any rural business models, for that matter), and over time, I have found myself both loving and hating the quirks of the service provided.
The first experience of getting a trench dug and line laid was great. It was ridiculously cheap and very easy to achieve. That was the first step. Other tasks like getting my company’s toll free 800 number moved from our old location in L.A. to our new home or getting call forwarding to work proved to be much more difficult. In many cases, I wondered if I was the only person trying to run a business from here.
The quality of our Internet service is….well, uneven. I hesitate to complain, because I feel lucky to have DSL, which is much better than dial-up or satellite, however, it is NOT “blazing fast” or what is classified as “high speed broadband,” regardless of how it is advertised.
The FCC’s recently updated definition of “broadband” as 25 megabits per second (Mbps) for downloads and up to 3 Mbps for uploads. They also say that 55 million Americans, including over half of rural people, lack access to this. I am one of those people.
Our co-op advertises speeds of up to 5 Mpsb down for fiber-enabled areas (which does not include our area) and 3 Mbps down for other areas. They call this “high speed,” though it doesn’t meet the FCC’s definition for broadband. The advertised upload speed is 0.5 Mpsb. Upload speeds are especially important for businesses and those that are adding to the web by sharing files, not just downloading.
The speeds we actually receive vary widely. Our download speed seems to average just over 2 Mbps. It sometimes reaches 3 Mbps and sometimes is below 1 Mbps. Practically speaking this means that videoconferencing or downloading streaming video through services like Netflix sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t. On the positive side, our service generally exceeds 1 Mbps up.
I have at various times complained about not getting the access I’m supposed to be getting and have received different responses. On a couple occasions, support folks at the co-op said that the FCC had required that our area’s speeds be dropped. After contacting the FCC to pursue this, a manager at the co-op quickly retracted that statement, and our bandwidth was adjusted upward. Sometimes when a complaint is made, there is an adjustment, and our access speeds magically increase, though they don’t seem to stay that way for long.
I have to say I was shocked. I thought that in America, if you dialed a number, it would ring through to that phone. Apparently, this isn’t always the case. Needless to say, this caused considerable disruption in my business as well as that of others.
I followed the suggested procedures of contacting both my local provider and the FCC, but this is still not completely resolved. One piece of information they require is the long distance provider of the calling party, which is not always easy to get from an already angry customer. Just having to ask for this information is a burden for everyone. While I am hopeful that recent FCC actions to address this will be successful, it is a considerable problem for rural consumers and business owners.
Given all this, have I reconsidered my decision to try to run a technology-dependent business from a rural locale? No. I love where I live and wouldn’t trade it for anywhere.
However, I do hope that technology and policy will advance to give rural communities a more equitable footing. It’s in our nation’s best interest to do so.