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The Widening Digital Divide

Today, Yahoo! and Verizon launched a $14.95 768/128 DSL package. According to the news story, SBC has a package twice as fast for the same money.

<p>Meanwhile, about 40% of the US can’t get broadband service of any kind.  Here in the Upper Valley, things look particularly grim.  The Hanover fiber project has tanked, and Finowin doesn’t have their technical lead anymore.</p>
<p>I spoke with a Verizon project manager last week, and they’re rolling out Fiber To The Home in the Nashua area this fall.  Manchester is slated for 2008, and the Upper Valley is basically on the ‘never’ list (falling from 2014 a couple years ago).  Some gear taken out of FTTH areas may trickle down to our area, but they’re still not going to put DSLAM’s in remote terminals.  With cable TV non-existant in large percentages of the area, most home users more than 5 miles from a CO (does anybody know how to get/plot this data on a GIS?) will be using 26.4K dial-up forever, with the current march of progress.  Even if Verizon could meet the 2014 date, the users would be on 20-year-old connectivity when they got here.  I was very proud of my 300-baud modem in 1985, to give some perspective to how technology should progress in 20 years - my cable modem is 10,000 times faster.</p>
<p>DirecWay is too unreliable and non-scalable to be of any use, if you can even see the Clarke belt, and the Teledesic-style projects are all defunct.  Stratellites have line-of-sight issues around here, and 900MHz mesh systems need more cooperation and user-maintenance than most people can handle.</p>
<p>Meanwhile, all these people are unable to download security patches for their computers (the full XP SP2 download is 250MB) which has some national security implications, as most of the big CIA thinkers expect a cyber attack sooner rather than later - attachs which depend on unpatched systems to succeed.</p>
<p>A few years ago, Verizon was saying they’d be up this way once they had DSL rolled out in urban areas.   Fair enough.  But now they’re just re-doing those areas with fiber so they can try to sell video services to the customers.  But when they’re done with that they’ll be up this way (fool me twice…).  We even have state Senators who want to remove all regulation of Verizon so they can operate without any competition in their state-granted monopoly. </p>
<p>With such a concentration of College/Medical Center/High-Tech workforce, often before a house can sell it has to pass the ‘can we get DSL here’ test.  This increases the concentration of demand in the most dense areas of town, further driving up costs in a housing-crunch market, and driving out workers who make average wages (the very workers who would most stand to benefit from the educational opportunities a broadband connection would provide.) Besides that, no area business can consider an equitable telecommuting program if almost half of the workers are unable to do so, which just leads to traffic congestion and the further national security risk inherent in our reliance on foreign oil.  I’ve talked to people from the Upper Valley Housing Coalition, who ostensibly want to improve the availability of affordable housing in the Upper Valley, but they’re not willing to consider the boadband angle.  They’re also not willing to work with Vo-Tech programs at the high schools to increase the supply of tradespeople either, so it’s not entirely surprising.</p>
<p>This situation parallels the electrification of rural America - scattered neighborhoods were forming Co-ops, but many were unable to do so or get the cooperation of their neighbors.   In 1936, the Federal Government realized the private sector wasn’t going to fill this void and decided it was in the nation’s best interest to see that everybody have electricity to their homes.  Next year marks the 70th anniversary of that Act, and it would be a fitting time to establish a Rural Connectivity Act.  The schools are wired now - let’s put that Universal Service Charge to use.</p>
<p>America faces several challenges in the next century: math and science education, national security, competing with China and India, and perservation of the American way of life.  All of these are begging for universal connectivity, and it’s a winner at the voting booth.</p>
<p>I’m going to be speaking with a staffer in Charlie Bass’s office about this issue this week.  If others are interested in helping with this work, drop me a mail or leave a blog comment.