Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Paving the dirt path

The Hill's connection to the rest of you out there in the many internets is a balky dial-up connection provided by AT&T (BellSouth until recently). BellSouth repeatedly has told me that there aren't enough people out here to make broadband worth providing. This is despite the fact that I live less than fifteen minutes away from one of the state's largest retail districts. AT&T says that one day all former BellSouth customers will have access to broadband; they just won't say when.

You folks who are saddled with dial-up like me understand my frustrations. I have to reload some of my favorite blogs two and three times because the connection times out. Posting to Blogger is always a crapshoot, even with the new system. I've learned to write my most important stuff in Word and paste it into the browser in case something profound (heh) gets lost. Downloading audio and video content - forget it. Anything like that I have to view at work, where time is limited at best, and non-existent at worst. I don't embed videos here because I don't want to wait half an hour to load my own blog.

At OpenLeft, a new project started by the folks behind MyDD, they're focusing this week on developing a national broadband policy. One of the highlights at OpenLeft this week is the participation of Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, one of the good guys in Congress. Durbin is working on legislation that would encourage the growth of broadband availability nationally, and he's getting a lot of good feedback in the comment threads. Some of the jargon gets thick, but I know you are smart folks who can follow along with the gist of the conversation.

Just across the border, the ConnectKentucky project provides a model for how broadband accessibility can be increased on a statewide level. As a Tennessee resident, it's hard to point at Kentucky as a model for much of anything, but the ConnectKentucky folks seem to be on the right track. The state has put together a group of civic, political, education, and business leaders who recognize the economic and cultural advantages of providing broadband access to all Kentucky residents, and they have sponsored a series of initiatives that have extended high-speed Internet access to most Kentuckians. According to ConnectKentucky, 93% of the state's households now have broadband access; this compares to a mere 27% of households in Tennessee.

Kentucky has shown great foresight in getting their residents connected to broadband, but there are still many areas of the country whose rural and low-income residents wait for broadband while their legislators shrink in fear of the telecommunications lobbyists. Rural telephone service exists because of universal access legislation enacted long ago, and large parts of rural America have the TVA and REA to thank for their electricity. Such a sweeping program may prove to be necessary in order to bring those of us out in the sticks into the modern era of Internet technology. Kudos to Senator Durbin for laying the groundwork that will finally get the last mile of the information superhighway paved for us.