Sunday, July 21, 2013

Why Internet Service Isn't Like Utilities - Especially in schools... Yet

I sometimes hear comments about Internet service being like a utility - especially electrical service. Comparisons are made to how electric service was extended to rural areas through cooperatives and subsidies. While I agree that Internet service is fast approaching that "basic need" category like electricity, water, etc., we are some ways off from it having the same ubiquity, level of service and reliability that other utilities have. It is still important to make sure that all students in all areas (urban, exurban, suburban, rural, etc.) have the same fast, reliable Internet services and this continues to require collaborative efforts and, to some extent, subsidies to keep a level playing field.

Electricity is delivered to most every home (save for those who are choosing to be off the grid) through distribution facilities in virtually the same form and with nearly the same reliability in an extremely high percentage of locations. No matter where I am, when I flick the light switch, I get around 120 volts at 60 Hz and the light comes on. Except for extreme situations, I don't worry about whether everyone on my block or connected to the same service provider is using electricity at the same time. If they are, my lights still come on with the same amount of power available to them as if I were the only one using it. Additionally, while costs for electricity do vary by geographic location, it is generally not a large discrepancy.

Internet service, on the other hand still does vary greatly. In some locations, fiber service is available with dedicated bandwidth. In others, providers overprovsion and sell 10Mbps service with actual speeds much less. Speeds in many types of service still vary according to how many people in the same area are using the service. It is still not possible to start up your computer or launch an app on your mobile device and expect a constant, predictable speed or level of reliability from Internet service.

So... Internet service is not ready to be called a basic utility yet. In schools, when community members wonder why you don't just buy the 50mbps service for $59.95 from one of the local service providers - or politicians wonder why they should fund something like telecommunications and Internet service separately (when they don't do that for electricity) from other things, we can explain that to have the reliability and level of service we need still requires a different kind of service level than is available to residents and small businesses.

1 comment:

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