We are paying more for our internet service than most people pay for cable, but somehow we don’t have enough data to stream a movie off Netflix.
This may not sound like a big deal. You might think I sound entitled or am getting upset over a service I should be grateful to have. But I’m not so sure. There is ample evidence that inferior WiFi connections disadvantage us, and West Virginia at large.
In my mind this is an injustice that needs to be addressed.
Our Shoddy Internet Service
Internet has been an unending problem for us at our homestead. We live a few miles outside the limit for broadband and have instead been reliant on satellite service. When we first moved in we decided to bundle our internet service with our phone line and went with the leading service provider Frontier. BIG MISTAKE.
It’s been a headache since the beginning. First, it took Frontier workers over a month to install our service because they failed to show up four Fridays in a row. Yes, each week for four weeks we were informed that an installer would be coming to our home sometime between 8am and 2pm. Pretty big time range, meaning our entire day off was spent at home on the mountain, waiting for service trucks that never showed up. We never even got a courtesy cancellation call.
Trust me, it was extremely tempting to change our provider. But alternatives were slim and every other option was much more expensive. So we stuck with Frontier until the glorious day when our internet was actually installed.
And then promptly wanted to cancel once our data ran out two weeks later.
The basic data package from Frontier provides 5 gigs a month. I post in this blog maybe 4-6 times a month, which uses about 50-70% of it. Add some photo uploads to social media, a quick video GIF now and then, some accidental automatic updates and our internet is used up. After we use our 5 gigs, the internet speed slow to a crawl. And when I say crawl, I mean 10 minutes to load a webpage crawl.
Try running an online Freelance business on THAT.
The biggest problem is we have no alternative WiFi option. If our data runs out we can either
1. mooch WiFi off neighbors who have even less data than us
2. drive thirty minutes away to the schools we work to use their WiFi from the parking lot
3. Drive fifty minutes away to sit in a crowded fast food restaurant
These options can work for quick email checking or web browsing, but they are absolutely not conducive to running an online business.
This means we’ve gotten creative. We are stringent with our data usage policing each other when we think the other is being extravagant. I’ve been waking up at 5am most days to take advantage of our WiFi ‘bonus period’ from 2am to 8am.
It’s getting ridiculous. And I’m exhausted.
The Scandal of Frontier Internet
I wish our situation was unique, but unfortunately it’s affecting people throughout our rural community. Affordable high-speed internet is simply near impossible to come by. The main problem with rural internet is that a lack of competition allows for shoddy service. Frontier is the leading internet provider in our region, and in recent years they have been charged with lawsuits that claim the company doesn’t provide internet even one tenth the speed they advertise. They are accused of delivering their fastest speeds only in areas where they face competition. Where there is none, Frontier can afford to go slow. And slow speeds dramatically affect people’s ability to fully utilize the internet.
“…Frontier’s practice of overcharging and failing to provide the high-speed, broadband-level of service it advertises has created high profits for Frontier but left Internet users in the digital Dark Age…As a result, students are prevented from being able to do their homework, and rural consumers are unable to utilize the Internet in a way that gives them equal footing with those in an urban environment.” (The Charleston Gazette)
In a region where jobs are disappearing every day and working online from home could be a lifesaver for many people, this is inexcusable.
The problems run deeper. Our satellite data limits are almost certainly superficial. A cap is applied when a channel intended to be shared by many users becomes overloaded, or when the provider sees an opportunity to exploit their customer’s lack of competitive options. That’s us. That’s my community.
In the 21st century, the internet is what roads were to the Roman empire. It provides access to market centers and those that have the best connections will always be at an advantage. My freelancing business is already suffering because I can’t apply for any jobs that require a Skype connection. And we will struggle to create an online presence for Big Laurel if most of our social media activity needs to happen before 8am.
Will this situation change soon for West Virginia? Odds are against it. A member of the house of delegates is also an executive director of Frontier Internet. When government policies come up about improving West Virginia’s internet access, who is he going to vote in favor of, his stockholders or his constituents? That’s a major conflict of interests and a big fat incentive for Frontier to continue to be allowed to monopolize this region with shoddy service.
I understand that getting faster internet isn’t as easy as flipping a switch. In all likelihood Frontier is doing the best they can with the aging infrastructure in place. Where I have a problem is the complete lack of incentive that they have to improving the quality of their service. Why would they, when they have a monopoly over our region and can make more money by providing slower, data-capped service instead?
A few days ago it just got to be too much. We had twelve days left in the month and only a third of a gig. I had articles to write and no time to spend hours off the mountain in a parking lot. So we called to cancel our service with Frontier in favor of a more expensive provider, only to learn that we had inadvertently signed ourselves up for a two-year contract and would have to pay a $400 cancellation fee. If we are paying the ‘contract’ price I’d hate to know what the normal monthly rate is.
And so we stay with Frontier. We’ve sucked it up and doubled our data allowance, so odds are good we should make it for three weeks every month now. I’ll continue to wake up early.
And we’ll continue to witness the opportunity cost of our rural isolation.