Early Rural Internet Options
It was 1999, and dial up was my only means of connection to the internet. I lived in Woolwich, within yards of where I do now. Cable internet ran down the highway, but that was miles from where I was located. The town had an agreement with the local cable company – if you use our poles to pass through, you have to provide broadband to the residents. However in the fine print of the contract was something called a density requirement. The cable provider was only required to construct cable where there were a certain number of houses per mile. Since I lived in a scarcely populated section of town, my area did not meet the requirement. Neighbors petitioned for the provider to run cable, only to be met with red tape, guidelines and statistics.
My reasons for desiring high speed internet were legitimate, albeit childish at the time. As a young man I played online games that required it. Dial up didn’t cut it, and my scores reflected this. Beyond that, my ability to work was severely limited. Email, internet research and remote access were limited at best. I was in college and had a small web design firm, so my daily activities relied on having adequate bandwidth.
The Advent of High Speed Internet
However there was hope. A small provider based in Bath offered wireless high speed internet that could reach miles outside the city. I purchased the equipment and rented a bucket loader to mount the receiver in a tree outside my house. After some effort, I was able to secure a 20ft tall antenna to a pine tree and aim the receiver towards Bath. It worked great! Finally, I had a high speed internet connection to my home. My gaming scores soared, and my work output skyrocketed (although not at the same rate – hey I was 23, I had better things to do!). Although it wasn’t pretty, and tended to go out when the wind blew, it was night and day compared to what I had previously.
Broadband is rated by numbers which represent download speeds and upload speeds, also referred to as bandwidth. These numbers represent speeds measured by megabits per second (Mb or Mbps). For example, a 10Mb/5Mb connection represents 10 Megabits down and 5 Megabits up. Download is how fast you can retrieve information. Viewing a video, listening to a song, or even accessing a webpage uses download speeds. On the converse, sending information – an email, adding a picture to Facebook or video conferencing – consumes upload bandwidth. If you don’t have enough download or upload speeds, you’ll notice poor performance. Typically, download speeds are metered at a different rate than upload speeds – often much higher. This is because the average user consumes more download bandwidth, so providers focus their infrastructure and pricing based on this. Businesses, on the other hand, might use more upload bandwidth because they have different needs.
Redefining the Standard
Recently, ConnectME (the organization charged with regulating grant money for bandwidth initiatives in Maine) changed the definition of broadband. Now, broadband is defined as any connection with a minimum of 10Mb download and 10Mb upload. Why the change? Real internet, a connection you can actually do things with, has to be fast in order to provide the services businesses need. Previously, the definition was much smaller – and providers weren’t motivated to meet the growing need for speed.
I have customers that can’t get a connection faster than 25Mb down and 5Mb up. That doesn’t meet the definition of broadband. While this may be adequate for basic home use, anyone who hosts remote access, offers services to customers that require external access, or uploads information to vendors will suffer with this limited connection. Since Maine is such a rural state, it can be difficult and expensive for providers to run cabling and install the expensive infrastructure needed to support fast connectivity. Businesses in Maine need faster high speed internet in order to compete in the world market, and it has to be affordable.
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