Dear Neighbor: Nan Lund: Life without internet

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 23, 2024

By Nan Lund

Dear Neighbor,

I recently returned from a lovely camping trip through parts of North Carolina with which I was unfamiliar. We were in a comfortable camper with most of the comforts of home.

However, what was missing most of the time was the rest of the world. There was no cell or internet connectivity when we stopped in some places. The biggest problem was not being able to do my morning routine of Wordle and the frustration of not being able to check my email several times a day. Not the end of the world. I got caught up back home.

The pandemic revealed how critical connectivity is for education, commerce and health. It also highlighted the extreme disadvantage to low-income households with no internet connection. In response, the legislature passed and President Trump signed an emergency program to make affordable internet widely available and in 2021 Congress established the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). It enabled 23 million households to acquire high speed internet, including one out of every 5 homes in North Carolina. The results were stunning. It has been documented that every dollar spent to provide this access has resulted in a $3.89 increase in Gross Domestic Income and led to higher wages and greater employment. Wealth growth for young Americans has had an historic rise.

The ACP is now running out of money and will end this month unless it is extended.

This will leave millions of families in North Carolina without broadband internet that provides reliable high-speed access to basic services such as education, health care, public safety and government services. President Biden has asked Congress to continue the funding. While members of both political parties are co-signers of the bill, it is being held up in committees.

It may be easy to think that connectivity is not important unless you don’t have it.

Affordable, reliable, high-speed internet should be like electricity-something available to everyone. It facilitates all aspects of day-to-day functioning.

Students can do research and engage in group projects at home rather than having to travel to hot spots such as McDonald’s or the library.

Distance learning becomes possible as various resources including videos, photos, interactive lessons and interviews are available Health care services in remote areas are available through teleconferencing providing low-cost access to providers, and allow for providers to monitor patients regularly and receive real-time feedback on how treatments are working.

Small business owners can attract customers locally, nationally and world-wide. Online banking saves time, travel and postage and facilitates paying bills on time and keeping track of expenses.

Online shopping brings the global marketplace into the home. You may not love Amazon but it’s hard to do without it, especially if you are homebound or in an area with little retail.

Having employees work from home saves companies money and allows employees to spend less time and money on commuting.

People with disabilities benefit from supportive technology such as webcams to communicate in sign language or screen readers that make material audible for individuals with visual impairments.

Good health depends on many factors. Programs on cooking, exercise, crafts and mentally stimulating ideas keep both mind and body active. Social contact has increasingly been shown to be important for a healthy lifestyle. While Zoom, Skype and Google Meet are not substitutes for face-to-face contact, they allow us to keep in touch with friends and family, near and far away.

Universal broadband connection would make it possible to eliminate the printing and distribution of millions of documents that come to our mailboxes, many of which never get read. One estimate is that the federal government spends almost a billion dollars a year on forms and inserts we don’t need. Add that to state, county and town budgets and we’re talking real money.

So, before you decide that internet connection isn’t important, think about how often you go online to reserve a book at the library or a table at a restaurant, Google the meaning of a word or a movie review or look up a how-to on YouTube. Then take a little trip to a dead zone and stay awhile. Take a book. And a map. And don’t get a flat tire or a burst appendix.

“Dear Neighbor” authors are united in a belief that civility and passion can coexist. We believe curiosity and conversation make us a better community.