Would you think of opening a store or factory without a telephone? Without a sign on your building or store front? Not if you had any idea of succeeding.
Today, to come into a county without real high-speed Internet service is just about as intelligent. Having your website online is just as important as being in a phone book. The Internet is the phone book of today, as well as tomorrow.
Our Stone Age telecom nightmare.
An experiment in New Zealand with the country's largest broadband company found carrier pigeons were several times faster than their broadband.
Can you imagine how slow we are in comparison?
Hickman County lacks a technology center where young people and adults are provided training in computer technology. All the counties surrounding us have such facilities. We are the hole in the donut.
Our landline telephone and DSL access, provided almost exclusively by A T & T, isn’t much better than Iraq or Afghanistan. Cell phone reception is non-existent in perhaps 2/3 of our county.
I’m not running for the school board, yet I am aware that programs like No Child Left Behind and Common Core are forced upon state and local school systems without enough planning. These are then tossed aside for something new before they’ve even given the previous programs a chance. We get halfway across the river, get discouraged and turn around and swim back when we could have kept going forward, achieved our goals and not had to swim any farther than we did in defeat.
Our school superintendent is the highest paid official in the county and I’ve not seen near enough progress in the education of our children. Much of it is not his fault, but is the result of an impractical “one size fits all” federal/state policy. Still, it’s widely known that the school system is riddled with nepotism (relatives filling cushy jobs) and with a reign of terror that sends our best teachers fleeing to other counties because they are punished for the slightest disagreement or even suggestion that does not match that of our superintendent 100%.
Education and broadband go hand in hand. Our kids (and adults) pack the libraries here to get broadband that doesn’t even meet federal standards. They can’t get it at home and there isn’t enough bandwidth in the schools to meet their needs. People even flock to the libraries on weekends and days they are closed, gathering in the parking lot to tap into library wireless.
Several candidates say they support broadband - but then, who doesn’t? What they don’t say is what they would do about it - because they don’t understand it. In a nutshell, the big telecoms are totally de-regulated now. They do what they want and charge what they want. They can lie with a straight face to get their sticky fingers into your wallet or purse.
We depend on them for the facts about broadband access. What we don’t realize is that if one person in a census block can get broadband internet, then they paint the whole block as having access. This is blatantly false!
Much of our internet and phone access is over poorly maintained copper wires that are rusting and shot up by careless hunters, making internet access speed a typical 25 Bytes to 2.5 kilobytes, about what it was 50 years ago when the first commercial modems came on the market.
We feel "privileged" to offer a typical 200 to 300 kilobytes "broadband" speed at libraries and through DSL - when the federal standard is more like 786 kilobytes.
Many communities now offer 500 million kilobytes or even 1 billion kilobytes or 1 gigabyts speeds or even faster. The business we need to grow, (5 to 25 employees) depend heavily on high-speed internet we can't even offer - much like the land we offer but don't have. of companies with 5 to 25 employees, 24 to 20% also use the internet at home for work, making county-wide broadband vital.
What kind of difference does these comparisons make to my hourly labor costs for a data entry employee communicating across the country or the world to my customers, vendors, etc.?
We are like a snail crawling along at 1 inch an hour.
We see the turtle go by us at what seems an amazing speed of 1/10th miles per hour.
But we don’t even see the blur of the antelope racing past the turtle at 60 miles per hour!
A Look at the future of broadband.
Recently, the CEO of A T & T announced a $14 billion plan to abandon copper land lines serving regular telephone users and DSL users in favor of a totally wireless 3G/4G network. This plan, called Project VIP, (Virtual Internet Provider) is touted to serve 75% of the population, yet it abandons that 25% of the population that lives in 75% of the geographic U.S., (see map).
This is why A T & T will no longer service those overhead telephone lines that are being destroyed by hunters shooting birds on the line and by the years of neglect that lead to cracked and broken phone wires in Hickman County and elsewhere across rural America.
Legally, this requires a vote of Congress and FCC approval to abandon the 1934 Communications Act. This is accomplished by massive lobbying and donations to members of Congress and the Senate. This move is made solely to increase A T & T's profits, regardless of the cost to rural America.
Your phone bill has increased in recent years in part because of a higher charge for a Universal Service fee, which was intended to improve rural broadband service just as TVA brought electricity to the Southeast. Sadly, it applied only to cities of more than 25,000 population - for which Hickman County does not qualify. Only recently have attempts been made to broaden this category.
The Tennessee Regulatory Authority (TRA), which supposedly regulates utilities within the state, has been stripped of its power over the big tele-coms such as A T & T, Verizon, Sprint and a few more. Many of the smaller tele-com providers chose to remain under T R A authority.
This means the big guys can charge whatever they want, lie about what they provide - including your internet access speeds (which are 20 to 80% less than advertised), and do what they want. There's not one darned thing you can do about it. Just ask the TRA itself.
If you enjoyed the Great Recession we are still in (despite claims of recovery for the rich) which was triggered by the de-regulation of banks, you are going to really love the impact tele-com de-regulation will have on our telecommunications infrastructure.
What this means to you!.
Thanks to secret agreements between the big tele-coms and government agencies such as the National Security Agency (NSA, smilingly referred to as No Such Agency by its insiders), these corporations can bend - or break - the laws as they wish in exchange for giving Big Brother what he wants.
FIRST, the abandonment of copper landline telephone and DSL access means that in the future all of your private communications will be wireless. That means the contents of your phone conversations and internet activity is floating through the air, not traveling along a wire. This makes it public information and means the NSA (and others) no longer need a court order to spy on us. They just pluck everything out of the air, (microwave, radio wave and satellite pipelines) without a warrant.
The story of the NSAs gathering of everything about you, from financial to medical records as well as all your phone calls and internet activity, is another story far too big to tell here. But while the NSA says it does not listen to everything, this is deceptive. They gather everything and store it in multi-billion dollar information warehouses so they can listen or read all of it any time they want, for whatever reason they choose, even if it has nothing to do with terrorism or national security. It has been used to spy on and destroy Gen. Petraus and Rep. Anthony Weiner (the New York Congressman who couldn't seem to keep his weiner in his pants).
These huge data centers measure the amount of storage in "yodabytes." A yodabyte (the highest data measurement known) is equal to 1 million terabytes or 1,000 million gigabytes. The hard drive on your home computer, in comparison, is probably around 160 to 3,000 gigabytes (in the newest computers). The first such data center is in Montana and more are planned for Texas and other states, including possibly even in Tennessee.
SECOND, it means a return to the days of the pay telephone but in digital, wireless form. Instead of paying by the minutes as at a pay telephone, you now pay by the megabyte of data. If you "go over your limit" your internet access can be either slowed down to dial-up speed or cut off altogether until the start of your next billing cycle or you can be charged outrageous "over-usage" penalties.
THIRD, it means your home security systems will no longer work unless you agree to "an upgrade" which means cameras installed throughout your house, including your bedrooms. Hickman County residents have told me they have been told they have no choice but to submit to this invasion of privacy or lose their home security.
What can we do about it?.
Because the nation's telecommunications system is no longer subject to state regulation, and most federal regulation by the FCC has been removed, there is nothing that any county commissioner or state legislator can do about it.
The only possible solution is to put pressure on your Congressman/woman and Senator to re-regulate the big tele-coms to protect the interests of the American people and avoid a telecommunications breakdown caused by the greed of huge corporations.
We can also write or call our state senators and representatives and urge them to put pressure on our federal officials and elected representatives to represent and protect the people, not the faceless corporate giants.
What can we do locally?.
In the meantime, we face the local challenge of bringing Hickman County into the 21st Century so we can compete with the larger, richer more urban counties that are sucking business and jobs out of counties like ours.
While I applaud the School Board's decision to purchase 1,500 computers for our (shrinking) student population, there's not much point to it if there's not the "bandwidth" to get fast access speeds. I've heard from too many teachers that, even with the computers we have, the connections are so slow that it takes far longer than it should for students, and teachers, to use them online efficiently.
To understand what "bandwidth" means, think of the internet as the "information super highway" it's hyped up to be. Think of it as an interstate - the more lanes it has, the more traffic it can handle. Our "super information highway" is more like an overgrown cow path!