• 68°

All I wanted for Christmas was high-speed internet

Somehow the gifter in my life failed to fulfill the one item this giftee wanted most on the 25th. I got lots of girl gear, the obligatory fuzzy slippers, and a purse the size of Texas. He even remembered to buy my favorite stocking stuffer — one of those chocolate oranges you crack open. Good job, Honey, but bah, humbug. What happened to my request for high-speed internet? So what if it’s a request I’ve made 20 years running. I figure one day my dream will come true.

Let me say up front that I would have to get another degree to write with any seriousness about the complex issues affecting the broadband/DSL/fiber optics world, and I don’t think The Daily Leader is willing to subsidize my return to college. But the bottom line is this: I’m part of the have-nots in the population scheme.  The magical orange stub indicating access to all things wi-fi is located precisely three-quarters of a mile (that’s 1,320 yards) down the road from my driveway, where it’s been for longer than I can remember.

Now, for those of you who think I’m whining (you know who you are), consider my plight. Without a decent internet connection, you can’t take online classes, watch Amazon Prime shows, download music or have a consistent FaceTime conversation. Want to place a last-minute bid on eBay? Stream Elmo on YouTube for a two-year-old? You can forget all that, too. Then there are more serious problems, like the inability to do serious research, conduct job searches, print IRS forms, and fill out medical histories for physician groups who are high-tech.   

Something happened about a decade ago that made me realize how behind we are in the whole high-speed thing. During a cross-continental phone exchange, some friends we have in Zambia mentioned they have great internet there. Even the huts.

“Even the huts?” I repeated, not sure I heard her correctly.

“Even the huts,” she stated again, as if it was the most normal thing in the world. Not in my world. No, siree — not in the pine-covered hills of rural Copiah County.

My brother built a house not far from me in the middle of the woods. He slapped a metal roof on it, adding another whammy to the no-DSL-access problem: zero cell phone reception. I think that’s why he moved to Indianapolis. And it may be why his house has been on the market a while.

Today’s need for high-speed internet access could be compared to yesterday’s need for electricity. In 1936, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt issued the Rural Electrification Act, providing for the installation of electrical distribution systems to serve isolated rural areas of the United States. The funding was channeled through cooperative electric power companies, and REA crews traveled through the American countryside, adding wiring to houses and barns.

An angle worth exploring for internet? You townsfolk scoff, but I’m serious.

I was serious enough, in fact, to bring it up to my representative when I was on Capitol Hill in June. I’d just attended a subcommittee meeting announcing connectivity expansion efforts in four states. Mississippi wasn’t one of them.

Benny blew me off. He wanted to focus on passing the Farm Bill instead. (If you don’t know what the Farm Bill is and you’re a taxpayer, you might want to get a clue. Evidently it usurps the internet concerns of whiney people like me.)

Later this month I’m scheduled to appear on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal. I’ll be there to discuss an article I wrote about SNAP (the food stamp program), but I just might mention how some of the federal dollars the government is so eager to spend in our state could be diverted. Digging some fiber optic lines on Lott Smith Road would be a good place to start.   

Kim Henderson is a freelance writer. Contact her at kimhenderson319@gmail.com.