I spent 18 years with the youth group in my parish working in Appalachia. We provided for people who could not afford repairs to their homes. We worked in one of the poorest counties in the nation, Preston County, West Virginia. The unemployment rate was 25 percent and husbands, fathers, and other family members sometimes had to travel over 100 miles one way to find work to support their families.
The Connectivity Problem Is Real
My specialty was roofing; I replaced a lot of roofs so people could be dry in the winter. Over the years I found one common thing at many of the homes: most had a satellite dish, and we had to ask permission to take it off the old roof and reinstall it on the new roof. Most of the time we were told, “Take it down.”
Part of the time on every trip, we would sit down with members of the families and talk. Most of the time it was the young children at first, and then by the end of the week, the adults would speak with us. In my early trips, I would ask why was the satellite dish was turned off, and I always got the same answer, “We had to make a choice between food for the kids or the dish television.”
We spent most of our time in the hills, so the network TV signals didn’t reach into the valleys. I remember my aunt, who lived in a log cabin. She had a tower antenna for her TV, along with a motor that could turn the antenna to try and get the best reception – which was always terrible. Even today, there is no cable or internet available to the residence.
The problem extends far beyond this one case study. Every year, I was in West Virginia in August. When asking children, “Does your school have internet?” the smaller children would always have said no, while the occasional high schooler would reply, “In some classes, but not all.” I did some research on this subject and found a report from the USDA that found rising income inequality is the primary driver of increasing rural child poverty.
What can be done to improve the accessibility of information for about 24 million people, as reported by CNN? Well, Microsoft has had nothing but positive results so far from something they have been trying. In the United States, it would involve reserving 3 unused TV “white spaces” for private companies to provide broadband connection.
I read the report and the term “white spaces” struck me as surely politically incorrect, until I read on. Before you get upset, let me tell you what “white spaces” are and you’ll understand the real problem. As the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) reported, “Currently, the broadband internet industry in the U.S. is regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC.) The regulation, updated most recently in 2015, prohibits and limits private access to specific frequencies labeled as low power television providers. In simple terms, the FCC has carved out a list of wave lengths designated for non-commercial use, but it hasn’t yet released them for public use.”
Keeping these white spaces vacant doesn’t make much intuitive sense, yet many broadcasters are insisting on keeping them underutilized. Why? Lifezette reported that it’s because “they want the white spaces all to themselves.” Why? Because “these broadcasters already control 92 percent of the available channels with $1.75 billion in government support, with possibly $350 million more coming. Broadcasting firms fear that using white spaces for broadband will minimize or interfere with their government-funded operation. These groups don't have any legitimate concerns about the bill, so they're having their expensive consultants orchestrate fake-news talking points to scare legislators away from supporting the bill.”
Here are the facts, as reported by ACT Online:
- Broadcasters already have more than 92 percent of the channels.
- TV white spaces will not interfere with medical devices.
- Broadcasters do not lose their ability to alert the public during life-threatening emergencies.
- The government will not lose revenue by making TV white spaces available for the public good.
Knowledge is power, and as you can see from the information above, those companies who currently have the jurisdiction are unwilling to share it to advance opportunities for the poor. Microsoft has proved its concept works in 20 nations around the world. Isn’t it about time for the American poor to be on par with these 20 countries? If we can improve the quality of education for the rural poor, I believe we can give them a better quality of life, and service groups will no longer have to go to Appalachia. It’s time for Ajit Pai and the FCC to act.
Dan Perkins is an author of both thrillers and children’s books. He appears on over 1,100 radio stations. Mr. Perkins appears regularly on international TV talk shows, he is current events commentator for seven blogs, and a philanthropist with his foundation for American veterans, Songs and Stories for Soldiers, Inc. More information about him, his writings, and other works are available on his website, DanPerkins.guru. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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