Mar 18, 2013

Business? Move Away

I had a 9 Mb file to upload to a client the other night and it took 3 hours. This is a Saturday night, and we're using a fixed line of sight internet "broadband" provider that delivers our connection through an attenne on the roof, and I'm able to upload at 1-4 Kbps. In comparison, dialup in the 90's was 56 Kbps and most modern cable providers now deliver 5 Mbps-- this is to say a connection to the internet in 1998 was 14x quicker than mine, and you are likely browsing 90x faster than that.  

So I'm scrambling to deliver on time a file that ought to be small enough to include in an email. At one point it's 10:00 P.M. and I've got to get this file up within two hours. Dropbox says it's half uploaded, then does some calculating and concludes it will take four more hours to finish. Ridiculous. Fast forward to today: I do some digging and find around 95% of the total United States land area is rural, and in 1910 54% of the population lived in these areas. In the past hundred years there's been a shift, however, and now only 20% of the population are living in rural America. That means I'm part of less than a quarter of the total American population that has to deal with this. The solution? I slide down to the smart phone and use it to connect to a weak 1x cell signal. Unbelievably it manages to outpace the house internet and deliver the project 10 minutes before it's due. 

That night I start to check and see if I can get dialup at the house.

I'm faced with a problem: the majority of the country seems unable or doesn't care to support an internet business like mine. Broadband is money, and without a dense population to supply a high rate of return the math doesn't produce inexpensive high speed internet. I post comparisons between this number vs. that number per second, but my weekly panics to deliver on time are the real result of slow speeds. Given enough time I will likely outgrow the limits I have here and be herded into the nearest high speed area. Like me, my demographic is finding itself stuck in urban areas whether we like it or not.

I have an opportunity here in West Virginia, and a better one in Maine to access 25 Mbps and greater download speeds, but it costs $4,000 and over a month. That's nearly fifty grand a year, and many would consider that an wonderful income, but it's just the buy in price for access. The same connection speed can be purchased in Los Angeles for $200, though, and it makes living out here seem crazy. Lets face it, anyone who needs a strong connection lives in urban areas, and those that are left behind-- are left behind.

This climate isn't the fault of cable companies. I get a newsletter around Halloween every year from my ISP that invites their customers out for a hayride through town. Far from the cash hungry thieves they're often depicted as, I think my rural provider is probably staffed by really nice people who are providing services as best they can given the population density and fixed costs. Even without that nice sentiment, giant corporations like Comcast are directed by profits, not human need. They aren't in business to transform rural America into the new home of internet startups, promote population growth, or modernize old business models. 

It also isn't the fault of rural people who are working in the only industries left that a small town can support. Anyone with aspirations to work in a connected environment for a world wide market has long left for an urban area, and any need for the internet seemingly left with them. As long as my town can survive on dial up speeds it will continue to function, but as the population inevitably dips lower its chances of becoming the next ghost town will steadily grow. 

I have a personal interest in living in rural America, but I have a business that's pulling me away. Do the people of small towns want me and my generation around, or are they content to slowly fade away without us?