Imagine if there was no Internet during this pandemic (and thus no cell phones or cable TV), just land-line telephones and over-the-air TV with a few channels. Work-at-home, distance learning, health care delivery, and remote shopping (mail-order catalog+phone orders) would all be different and less functional. There wouldn’t be videoconferencing, video phone calls, interactive gaming or other tools to keep us connected despite social distance. The cloud-based tech company, Cloudflare has posted a video that portrays the contrasts. The graphic below shows how suburban Internet traffic exploded during the pandemic.
Well, fine. We’re all good with online shopping, Zoom videos and fiber-optic HDTV, right? Or are we? Has reliance on an incrementally-developed, market-based Internet really delivered for us? Or is it mostly there for a subset of tech-savvy people and businesses who can afford to use it? Consider the abundant poverty and environmental injustice in our community, our plethora of low-end businesses, the lack of vision that drives local development. Overlay those factors with the loss of net neutrality, computing expenses (hardware, software, upgrades, tech support, difficult integration of complex systems), network costs (access, bandwidth, upgrades), a socio-economic infrastructure that rejects telecom (e.g. drive across the metro area to use a computer to send email to the guy in the adjacent cubicle) and the picture doesn’t look so rosy. Technology-wise, we are still pretty much in the era of phoning a gatekeeper before we can actually access the service we want, an era where business productivity is evaluated by how warm the desk seat is at 5:00pm. Ask yourself how modern, how Internet-optimized, the DMV is for you.
The Advocates for Arden Arcade shifted to a primarily online organization some time ago. Yet the elves who study our blog’s traffic (consistently rising, BTW) tell us we have a long way to go before our message gets to a critical mass of the intended audience, of which a large portion is Internet-poor and/or not tech-proficient. One wonders whether the pandemic is going to actually impact the Internet in any meaningful way or whether it will just be another speed bump in the Internet’s slow and spotty evolution. Still, it is clear that we are all scrambling to use the Internet now, especially our public systems like the schools and unemployment offices. The pandemic has demonstrated that the Internet is an essential utility. So should it continue to be thought of and regulated as a nice-to-have amenity?