After we got Starlink satellite internet at our home in rural south Salem, Oregon in early 2021, I stopped complaining about CenturyLink after we dumped their crappy 6-7 Mbps DSL "broadband" and started enjoying 50-150 Mbps Starlink download speeds.
But today a CenturyLink repair guy came to our house to fix an annoying buzz on our landline, which got me thinking about rural broadband again.
(Yeah, we're old-fashioned, since we still have a landline, in part because the Verizon cellular connection on our iPhones is pretty poor, two bars at most, unless we take a hike up our long driveway.)
Since it took a while for the repair guy to figure out what was causing the buzz, I was able to chat with him about what used to be my favorite subject when I talked with a CenturyLink technician -- why our neighborhood about six miles from the city limits of Oregon's capital can't get fiber optic service.
We're only a couple of miles from where CenturyLink's fiber optic line ends along Liberty Road. It wouldn't cost a huge amount to extend fiber optic to our area.
Before we got Starlink, a few years ago I contacted a local broadband company about signing up for their cellular broadband. It turned out that because we didn't have a line of sight to the cell tower they use, that wouldn't work for us.
Another company was kind enough to give me a rough estimate for what it would cost for them to extend fiber optic cable along Liberty to our neighborhood. Their estimate was about $400,000. That's a lot of money, but it sure seems doable for a massive company like CenturyLink (now legally Lumen Technologies.)
There's several hundred homes in our area. Yet the repair guy told me that CenturyLink isn't even installing fiber optic in all parts of Salem, or in all new subdivisions, so he felt that our neighborhood will never get fiber optic.
Not because it can't be done. Because it wouldn't generate enough profit for CenturyLink.
Hopefully President Biden's bipartisan infrastructure bill will fulfill Biden's promise that broadband will become available to everyone in the United States. I'm skeptical, though, that this will happen anytime soon.
Broadband should be a public utility like electricity. In the 21st century fast broadband is a necessity. Businesses need it. Families need it. Students need it. But so long as broadband is left in the hands of private companies out to make big profits, many people in the United States won't be able to get it.
I asked the CenturyLink technician if 5G cell service would come to the rescue of rural people lacking fast broadband. He wasn't very optimistic. I hadn't thought about this before, but he said that more cell towers would be needed for 5G, and they all require a fiber optic connection.
So plunking 5G towers all over rural America is going to be impractical, most likely.
Which makes Elon Musk's Starlink satellite broadband the best option for many rural people. Yes, the cost is $110 a month, recently raised from $99. If government funding could subsidize the cost of Starlink for those unable to afford it, this could be the best way to go for lots of rural Americans. We're certainly happy with it.