Call this a lesson in connectivity: Tech-dependent city dwellers can be easily spoiled by the splendors of high-speed Internet and digital phone services.
But there’s a large swath of the population, living mainly in rural areas, that’s still operating in low gear.
In their world, spotty cell phone coverage is the norm, and Internet service either comes in low-speed or no-speed. Traditional landline phones — sometimes even quaint party lines with shared phone service— are still essentials in many households.
This urban-rural technology gap hit home to me during a family trip to the deep woods of Wisconsin this past week.
The night before my return flight home to Kansas City, I decided to go online and check in because the airline requires it up to 24 hours before the departure. (Remember, I’m the lucky guy who recently got bumped off a flight.)
Forty minutes after logging on to the airline’s website, the Internet signal showed barely a pulse.
A call to the airline proved unsatisfactory, especially when I was told the wait time was 20 minutes and subsequently the call dropped. So I figured I’d try the Web again in the morning.
The online connection wasn’t any better on the second go-around. Finally fed up, the Internet problem was solved by purchasing a router, which boosted our online speed significantly but only after committing to a two-year $40 a month contract.
Because of that technology upgrade, I learned my flight plan had been changed and I resorted to Plan B to get out of town.
There are any number of things to dislike about the Internet. But if ever there was an additional reason for me to embrace connectivity, this was it. Had I not connected to the website, there would have been an unpleasant surprise at the airport that would have cost me time, and maybe money.
Coincidentally, a report issued earlier this week by two federal agencies found that about 26.2 million people don’t have access to high-speed broadband service, with nearly 73 percent of them living in rural areas.
The report, from the Federal Communications Commission and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, provided ample evidence of the rural-urban coverage gaps and how it hinders family financial decisions, employment, education and healthcare.
“This is not acceptable,” said FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski in a statement.
This is why the government is striving to overhaul the nation’s broadband underbelly to close and eventually eliminate the coverage gaps between rural areas and urban and suburban communities.
This is also why search-engine giant Google is launching a first-ever test project to wire Kansas City, Kan., and Kansas City, Mo., with ultra-fast Internet service by early 2012.
And this is also why it bears watching the outcome of AT&T’s proposed purchase of T-Mobile. AT&T has promised that if the deal is approved it will pump more resources into wiring the underserved parts of the country.
The Internet was to have been an equalizing agent for rural communities. Instead it appears that urban dwellers who were already connected have benefited while many rural residents still wait.
It’s time for all households to be on board.
Reach Steve Rosen at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 816-234-4879.