In 2016, the Federal Communications Commission in the US (the FCC), estimated that nearly 46% of Americans living in rural communities do not have regular access to high speed internet. The number would be similar here in Canada. And while high speed internet might not be seen as an essential service, it means that these people might be able to surf the web at home, but they won’t be able to stream content such as movies, or download websites that have a great deal of active content on their sites. And for those that can stream the odd bit of content pay much more for their internet fees than those in high population urban areas.
What does that mean for people? It’s about much more than just not being able to binge-watch Netflix. It means children won’t have access to some school activities or homework. It means that children (not to mention adults) will be missing out on important cultural references that their peers are taking for granted. It also means that families don’t have regular access to things that they might need to use, such as government websites, weather and news sites, and health information. When it takes too long for something to download, or a person knows the time they spend waiting will cost them extra that month, they’re reluctant to use it.
That’s where public libraries come in. It’s hard to believe, but not everyone has a cell phone or mobile device. That means people need reliable high-speed access from a free source that they can use regularly. And they need it at convenient times. Our community is a perfect example of this, with Beckwith and Mississippi Mills making up a large majority of the rural population. We have regular users, drop ins, and seasonal users of our computers, as well as people who come by just to use the free WiFi. We’re definitely an important part of the rural community.
If you didn’t have access to high speed internet, would you miss it?