Poor People Can Get Online if They Want to

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I stay in a working class neighborhood in Virginia Beach where the apartments are as low as $725 for a one bedroom.  On a good day there are as few as 5 routers or as many as 10 routers detected through my Wi-Fi.  Keep in mind that this complex itself is a good square mile so chances are there are many, many, more routers and Wi-Fi signals going out and about in this development.  This is considered to be the ghetto in Virginia Beach, but when you consider that there are four chain grocery stores within walking distance (15 to 30 minutes), it doesn’t seem that bad.

The interstate does cut through the neighborhood and cut it through half.  One one side of I-264 are the businesses, and the other side are the residents, in this neighborhood; some of the neighborhoods closer to the Oceanfront have residents living directly next to the highway, and then businesses before you get to the main road.  I wonder about the sentiment that poor people do not have any access to the Internet when I see people on smartphones checking their email and at some of the libraries in impoverished neighborhoods, people pull out their own laptops and netbooks.  Admittedly, one patron had what must have been on old IBM ThinkPad running Windows XP, but he could still get online.

In fact when I took this “Chinese Bus” to New York recently, you know where one person can go to New York for like $25 round trip, a woman pulled out an iPad.  Poverty is not preventing anyone from getting online, and it may or may not be preventing anyone from getting a computer.  Anyone can walk into a rental store and rent a computer for $30 a week if they want to.  Now this is not to suggest that there are not those poor people who live within their means and aren’t spending $500 on a computer, but I tend to think a lot of poor people, just like the rest of us, are getting devices on credit, whether it be a rental, or a 2 year contract where you get that device for “free” and end up paying the true cost over a 2 year period through inflated data costs. 

When I lived in a hotel that was designed for business travelers and paid every week I got free Wi-Fi.  That place was supposed to be for business travelers, you know, extended living, but it felt like someone was dealing crack out of there.  Some people get caught up and stay in “extended living” complexes for 10 years.  The school bus even came into the complex.  Free Wi-Fi was slow, but I was able to get online and do what I needed to do.

Attempts by municipalities to work with their local ISP to work with city governments to offer free Wi-Fi, or dial up, or broadband Internet, will most likely fail in many cases because the service is just a nice way for companies and businesses to advertise what they have to offer.  These same individuals are just potential customers.  I am not suggesting that Virginia does not need municipal Wi-Fi, but I am under the notion that the attempts at making the Internet a utility; free Wi-FI at libraries and businesses, may be sabotaging the case for municipal Wi-Fi, and the case at selling Internet to consumers.

The Internet has become this utility that you can “sample”, if you are okay with sitting at a Starbucks or the public library without making a purchase or checking out a book.  People get online, realize that it is not really worth paying for, and walk away from the Internet until they can get online for free again.  In rare cases it is worth paying for Internet, but to be totally fair, someone had their router unlocked for a good year in this complex, and I streamed movies, watched YouTube, uploaded and downloaded files and everything else until they finally locked it down.  I could have been a customer, but I was able to stay away from my local ISP for a very long time.

I tried to be fair; I tried to keep the bandwidth I was using to a minimum but the temptation was too great and I ended up watching movies all day on YouTube.  This is perfectly legal if you are the one that is actually paying for the connection yourself, but it does go against whatever bandwidth limitations your ISP has in place.  All I know is that there was a correlation between the “free television” I was enjoying, and them locking down their router.  Now it could have been that they got a virus from me or someone else that was using the connection, might have been that someone else was downloading torrents and they got those nasty letters from their ISP, could have been anything.  The party lasted for a “minute” but  it eventually came to an end.

As bad as that is if you live next to McDonald’s or Starbucks you are probably doing the same thing.  The ethical thing to do is to leave that connection alone for people that are actually spending money at those businesses, but that is rarely what happens.  One of the reasons why Internet costs keep rising for consumers could be the fact that there aren’t that many of us paying for it.  If you can get it for free you aren’t going to pay for it, and if it is legal you really aren’t going to pay for it (using an open residential connection is not legal).  

The Internet is not going to get any cheaper in this country, even though it should.  Much of the inflated cost is for repairs and technical support when you call into to speak to someone because the Internet is not working.  Most ISP do not charge to speak to their representatives, so that cost is going to be passed to you somehow.  An open society where everyone can get online for free, with free computers is a utopia that does not exist the way that we think that it should exist, but it is a reality that exists through means that no one really wants to acknowledge or own up to …


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