Like telephone and power, Americans should have access to the internet without discrimination, no matter where they live.
In the past, this has been a problem in rural San Juan County. According to Victoria Compton, director of the San Juan County Economic Development Council, about five years ago, there were areas in the islands with no access to the internet or additional bandwidth options.
She explained that locals felt that the islands’ main Internet Service Provider, CenturyLink, was not interested in creating additional local infrastructure to access the internet because the small customer base would not create large returns.
When people in rural areas are shut out from internet access to meet corporations’ revenue goals, it creates inequality. The internet is a necessary part of modern life. It is used for students’ homework, medical services and business. Preventing internet connections doesn’t just affect access to entertainment like Facebook and Netflix, it limits access to information, economic growth and even health and safety.
Thanks to Orcas Power and Light Cooperative, islanders have more options to connect and at higher speeds, if they are able to pay for it. OPALCO took over Rock Island Communications in 2014. Today, the for-profit company is a separate business, with separate finances, but OPALCO’s board oversees it. Representatives of RockIsland, as well as the local ISP Orcas Online, agree to provide equitable internet access. This philosophy should be adopted by the federal government.
About three years ago, America moved in that direction when the U.S. Federal Communications Commission established “net neutrality.” Those regulations state companies cannot discriminate against users or content. That means companies can’t give higher connection speeds to preferred websites or completely block content that differs from staff’s political, social or business views.
If the FCC votes to overturn these rules on Dec. 14, the country will move backward. Lack of regulations helped create those no-internet zones that Compton and other islanders experienced in the past.
Even with today’s standards, internet access in urban areas greatly outweighs that in rural areas. This discrepancy illustrates the need for additional policies to close the divide, not fewer. Maintaining net neutrality is a necessary step to create equitable internet access for all Americans, whether in urban or rural communities.