Let's make internet access more equitable
The creation of the internet, and its introduction to the public for everyday use, was one of the biggest game-changer events in hstory.
When one considers the access to information it provides with just the click of a button, it is hard to think of another modern-day invention or advance in technology that comes close to impacting everyday life the way the internet has. Whether you are a student compiling information for a class project or essay, opening and operating a new business or simply asking Google about some song lyrics you just heard on the radio, the internet has become something most people can no longer live without.
But like many great inventions, access is not created equally as some populations with the best infrastructure – or the best financial resources – end up with the best and fastest access, while others are left with poor service or even none at all.
Thankfully for Crook County residents, work is taking place at the federal level, and supported at the local level, to improve access to the internet. For the past few years, when Crook County's congressional delegates have hosted local town halls, people in the audience from Paulina, Post, Mitchell and other rural residences have expressed their need for the same high speed internet access enjoyed by the majority of residents. The same concerns have reached county government officials as well.
These voices have not fallen on deaf ears it seems. According to local officials, Rep. Greg Walden has already begun efforts to improve rural internet access. That work was further supported and pushed forward when the Crook County Court recently wrote a letter to Walden urging him and his fellow Congressional colleagues to consider TV white space as an option for providing more robust and far-reaching high speed internet service.
For those who haven't heard of this intriguing option, TV white space refers to the unused TV channels between the active ones in the VHF and UHF spectrum. They are typically referred to as the "buffer" channels. In the past, these buffers were placed between active TV channels to protect broadcasting interference.
According to the county's letter, this option is much cheaper than traditional methods and would far more effectively reach rural users because of its ability to "move through objects like hills and foliage."
Now the ball is back in Congress's court. County officials cannot do much more than write a letter with its suggestions and show of support for Walden's efforts. Congress on the other hand can work with the FCC to loosen regulations governing TV white space and make it available for rural residents in Crook County and potentially all over the country. Whether they will agree with county officials remains to be seen and whether it happens quickly is equally concerning. Sometimes "an act of Congress" takes many years and steps to become a reality. Just ask the folks who wanted to pass the Crooked River Collaborative Water Security Act.
And hopefully the effort to improve internet access and speed doesn't stop there. Even here in town, people have taken issue with the speed and quality of internet access. This is not an indictment on the local providers here in Prineville – they are doing the best they can with what is available – but rather the circumstances our community faces at this time.
It is enough of a concern that a California Berkeley student came to Crook County twice in the past two years to speak with local leaders and other community members as part of a research project on how smaller communities deal with internet connectivity issues.
While many causes were kicked around – too many users overload the current infrastructure, for example – no solutions have yet emerged. But one thing is clear and it sticks to a theme as old as the internet itself: Not all access is created equal.
Given how integral internet access has become in everyday life, that needs to change.