For Marcy Gage, getting decent broadband service for her home has been a 15-year battle. Because of her location in rural Maine, she’s had to rely on expensive-yet-spotty satellite internet because the local cable company stopped laying lines about 2,000 feet from her house.
According to Charter/Spectrum, the cost to run that extra length was $60,000, well above what Gage can afford to pay. And the special “pandemic” rate she’s now getting from her satellite company concludes in September. Instead of $26 a month, she’ll have to pay $75 for the same below-par service.
In the interim, she is working from home, sharing an internet connection that regularly tops out at 5 to 7Mbps with her middle-school-age son, who’s about to start remote classes. “We can’t both be online at the same time. And if we hit our data cap, the service gets bumped down to nearly no speed at all,” she says.
For rural families like Gage’s and millions more in the heart of U.S. cities, the digital divide between Americans who can easily access the internet and those who cannot is a growing concern and it’s likely to increase dramatically in the weeks ahead, as U.S. students face the challenges of remote learning.
“If it wasn’t glaringly clear before, the pandemic has confirmed the vital importance of a broadband internet connection—one that is reliable, affordable, and in some cases, simply available,” says Jonathan Schwantes, senior policy counsel in Consumers Reports’ Washington, D.C., office. “Unfortunately, far