As I was watching the Steve Jobs movie the other night—the one with Michael Fassbender and my dream girlfriend, Kate Winslet—I was struck by the brief 90 second interview from 1974 with the great science fiction author, Arthur C. Clarke, shown at the beginning of the film. In this interview, Clarke gives a hauntingly accurate prediction of how computers in modern day would impact our ordinary lives.
Clarke’s intuition borders on prophetic when he foresees that not only will computers serve to do daily things such as online banking and purchasing movie tickets, but will also will have a broader, societal impact on our culture and communities, giving a nod to many of the social media tools that we relentlessly use today. The accuracy of Clarke’s predictions is eerie, but there is one thing that he didn’t get right. Clarke postures that in the future,
“[computers] will enrich our society and make it possible to live anywhere we like. Any businessman, any executive could live anywhere on Earth and still do his business…”
While much of current technology has surpassed even Clarke’s imaginings, the idea that we can work anywhere without the physical constraints of our geographic location is still a pipedream for American society. The missing link: internet connectivity for all, everywhere.
FCC Reports have found that as much as 53% of rural Americans (22 million people, or over half of the rural population) lack access to 25 Mbps/3 Mbps and by contrast, only 8% of urban Americans lack access to 25 Mbps/3 Mbps broadband. That is a disturbingly large disparity between connectivity in rural and urban areas.
Should we all not be asking ourselves this question: In modern day, where much of the existing technology outstrips even the science fiction of the 20th century, why does the digital gap in connectivity between rural and urban areas still persist?
This is not an issue of demand. Rural consumers adopt broadband just as quickly as their urban counterparts when available. The Ellumen Team has seen the effect that this lack of connectivity has on rural communities firsthand through our efforts to implement telehealth infrastructure for the Crisfield Clinic in rural, Southern, MD. In today’s day and age, lack of internet suffocates commerce, depletes employment opportunities, and has many other wide-reaching negative implications on a community. Younger generations move away, healthcare suffers, and businesses decrease in favor of areas with better digital infrastructure. The need for better, faster internet is urgent.
We must start the dialogue and take a hard look at the obstacles that stand in the way of bringing high-speed internet to these communities. Policymakers must improve their understanding of the market and explore new solutions that can address lack of access in rural areas immediately. The overly-restrictive and cumbersome telecommunications policies that dictate the current market need to be reexamined in order to facilitate some long-term solutions. And in the commercial sector, the telecommunications service providers must factor these rural communities into their business plans instead of leaving them off the digital map.