What Kinds of Broadband Internet is Available in Rural Areas? You'd Be Surprised. By Michelle Walch

Moving to the country means crappy internet, right? Not always. Many rural communities are installing fiber optic internet service. In some cases, it’s easier to do that in the country than in the city. I look into why that is.

You’ve probably read my post on returning to the country. There is the bit about lousy internet service in NE Portland provided by CenturyLink: fiber optic until it reaches the neighborhood node, and then how the connection, “high speed” internet, travels on 1800’s copper telephone wire to the neighborhood houses and apartments. Essentially internet went from space age back to horse and buggy. Like, over-five-minutes-to-load-a-photo-onto-my-website slow, and then the system crashes. Rinse, repeat four more times before said photo is loaded. Couldn’t get anything done, pushing the blog post past the deadline. Well, not always but it sure seemed like it.

Urban internet isn’t that great

Portland, Oregon’s broadband service depends on where you are. North Portland has sort-of fast internet (many of us have not experienced fiber optic so what do we know), but the one complaint is that the price goes up without warning. We had to file complaints TWICE with Oregon’s Public Utilities Commission due to CenturyLink’s mysterious price hikes. Anyone who has Comcast has the same experience.

Broadband Now’s listing of what kind of highspeed fiber optic is available for inquiring minds that want to know. Half that service in urban areas is either DSL-backed or copper-backed internet. More on the terminology in a moment. Suffice to say it’s not very good and not very fast. And it depends where you live as well.

My mom, hearing our grievances, assuaged our concerns about lack of broadband internet. Molalla, Oregon has had fiber optic internet for about 15 years. What? Now Canby is laying down fiber optic cable. Independence and Monmouth, Oregon also have their own publicly-owned fiber optic service.

Facebook group Municipal Broadband PDX is working to bring fiber optic to Portland, according to an article in Portland Monthly. Read their mission statement and see if it doesn’t resonate with you: big service providers bring poor service at high prices, and lobby to remove regulations such as Net Neutrality.

The infrastructure of laying down fiber optic is expensive in an urban area. That’s a LOT of wiring, construction, logistics, etc.

It doesn’t help that big internet service providers buy out the competition and control any efforts to move forward.

Definition of Terms

It also doesn’t help that CenturyLink and Comcast, the main outfits that do have a semblance of fiber optic connectivity in Portland, only use the “Fiber-Backed” method of connection. That’s what they advertise. Sound vague? Here’s a glossary:

Fiber Optic: Internet transmitted as modulated light on plastic or glass fiber. THE fastest internet.

Cable: Coaxial cable that transmits TV and internet on copper wire. Welcome to the 18th century. Again.

DSL: Digital Subscriber Line. Again with the copper wire. Don’t spit on my cupcake and tell me it’s frosting, CenturyLink/Comcast.

FTTN: “Fiber to the Node” - Fiber optic cables across the existing telephone pole system but when it comes to hooking your computer to that system they simply string a copper cable from the fiber optic connection down to your house or apartment and connect you to a cable or DSL hookup. Also called FTTC - Fiber to the Curb or FTTN - Fiber to the Neighborhood. The cable companies refer to this method as “Fiber-Backed” service. It means they can call it “fiber optic” service (and charge you more for it! Grumble, snarl…) without actually providing you with fiber optic-speeds because you’re still hooked up to the horse-and-buggy of a cable line instead of to the Starship Enterprise of fiber.

FTTP: “Fiber to the premises” or “Fiber to the house” or FTTH. Fiber hookup directly to your house. That’s what you want. Beam me up, Scotty!

Coop: Customer owned service. According to the Public Utilities Commission, the service boundaries are restricted. Service like DirectLink in Canby, Oregon. Plenty of people complain about them as much as one of the big conglomerates. However, they are laying down fiber optic cable as I look out my window while I type this. Remains to be seen what the monthly price will be.

Public Utility: According to Merriam-Webster, a privately held company performing a public service subject to government regulation.

Mbps or Megabits per second: “The minimum benchmark for broadband internet is defined in terms of downloading and uploading speeds. The FCC standard is 25 megabits per second downstream — such as downloading files, receiving emails or simply visiting different web pages — and 3 megabits per second upstream, such as uploading files or sending emails.” Taken from the Capitol Press article cited below.

Federal Communications Commission rural broadband funding

Guess what showed up in a Google search right now: According to the September 6, 2019 Capital Press, the Feds authorized $4.9 billion to upgrade rural broadband over the next 10 years. As a result, farming equipment will be modernized. Irrigation systems and driver-less tractors managed by smart phones will have better connection. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai (speaking of no Net Neutrality) visited Eastern Oregon with Rep. Greg Walden in 2018 to discuss rural broadband. Now things are starting to happen. However, I am a bit dubious about ol’ Ajit’s motives and actually following through with laying down fiber optic.

Bringing fiber optic to the country

Big companies like CenturyLink and Comcast don’t care about The Sticks because it is a smaller market; bigger markets are typically catered to first. So, true to our country roots, we country folk take matters in to our own hands.

According to America’s Rural Cooperatives, for more than 75 years, electric coops bring power to local economies across 56% of the United States. Yet 34 million Americans lack access to broadband internet. President Trump’s infrastructure and the Farm bill may (emphasis on “may”) improve this. Read more about this HERE.

Rural telecommunications companies are picking up where Big Telecom leaves off. Read an article in VICE about this, “Rural America is Building Its Own High-Speed Internet, Because No One Else Will.” They are not always perfect, sure, but the fact that some communities in the countryside have real fiber optic when in Portland, Oregon DSL-crap-level service is offered, you are S.O.L.

High-speed internet brings opportunities to remote communities: telehealth, education, business, and just being connected (and all of the issues that come with being connected). The Vice article discusses one community in Kentucky, and their take on this: Trump may have talked about bringing coal back, but many in this area have their eyes set on the future, which means broadband internet.

The Digital Divide

Above all, the digital divide will be crossed when the people speak up to their representatives and senators. Write letters, voice your concerns, and vote. That’s another reason our democratic process needs to stay in place and functional.

Further, forming customer-owned electric coops may also be an option.

What is internet access like in your area? Leave your thoughts/rants/ideas in the comments. Share this article!

Michelle Walch