My wife and I moved our family out to rural northeastern Georgia in the fall of 2012. We had romanticized the notion of raising our children away from the hustle and bustle of suburban Atlanta for many years. After some searching for a home we picked one in the town of Royston Georgia. Being ‘tech savvy’ I asked the real estate agent if high speed internet was available and was assured that it was.
Imagine my surprise when I discovered that high speed internet in Royston means something entirely different than what I had grown accustomed to in Atlanta. Once we got installed our new high-speed internet was only able to do 1.5Mbps. Prior to this, the last time my internet speeds were this slow was back in 2005!
Outside of the immediate frustration of having to figure out how to ‘life’ without the same level of access to broadband that we had come to know and love it had a lingering financial impact. I could know longer conduct my business online, couldn’t manage client devices remotely, and forget about transferring large graphic design files. I literally could drive to Athens, about 40 minutes away, to hop on the internet at a copy shop to upload files quicker than sending them from my home connection.
I had been limited. Limited in the type of work that I could do which limited the income that I could earn.
Our oldest children were in high school and in town were enrolled in AP classes and could keep up with the pace of their coursework because we had reliable access to high speed internet for them to quickly research and obtain the information they needed. Once we moved out of town that access was gone. The only place for them to do online research was the local college. The school system didn’t even offer AP classes and directed students to take these classes ‘online’, guess what doesn’t work great out here. Instead most students changed their graduation paths to the two offered by our school systems, agricultural and early childhood development.
An entire group of population was being held back because they didn’t have access to the information. The resonated with me deeply and I am ashamed to say that I would not even have had it on my radar unless I moved to an underserved area to experience it firsthand.
Today we trade in information and the population groups that have access to this information always does better than the population groups that do not.
I began to study the correlation of average household income across the state of Georgia and level of access to high speed internet. I found that most of the underserved markets also have the worst access to broadband. For instance, where we now live, the average household income is $24,573 (source https://datausa.io/profile/geo/franklin-county-ga/). The average download speed in Royston is 5.52 Mbps. This is 84.6% slower than the average in Georgia and 559.8% slower than the national average (source https://broadbandnow.com/Georgia/Royston?zip=30662#).
This inequality doesn’t just exist in rural markets, but it exists in many places in where an income divide occurs. You can have giga-bit service in many parts of Atlanta but once you cross ‘the tracks’ you will only have access to slower and more expensive service that utilizes older technology. Many times, this service will come with long contracts and caps on the amount of data you can transfer each month. Furthermore, these data caps can cause the subscriber to pay a penalty fee if they go over which can lead to an internet bill of several hundreds of dollars a month.
What ends up happening is some of the lowest income earners ending up paying the most for internet access. To compound this the internet service is slower, less reliable, and has penalty charges to allow the ISP to curb usage or push customers into a 'bundle' with services they don't need.
When we started Paladin Wireless we were contacted by a family that lived about 8 miles outside of town. Elderly parents with an adult dependent that had a disability. The dependent used the internet to experience life and rarely left the house. Their only option was satellite internet and they would go over their monthly allotment causing their bill to balloon up to $600 per month. Once we got our service established in their community we were able to take that $600 bill and make it just $49.99 a month with no contracts and no data caps.
We also have been working on a program in where we provide this same level of high speed internet access into housing authorities where many of the resident’s income is fixed. In these developments we install access points in a central location that allows residents to connect to it using either an indoor device (IDU) or external device (ODU) mounted to the roof of the housing unit.
Paladin Wireless installs these customers at a discount and works with each resident on their income situation to make sure our billing coincides with their monthly deposits. Having our service in these housing developments affords residents all the same opportunities that higher income developments have due to broadband access. The funds raised from this campaign help offset the discounts we provide these residents but more so will fund the equipment and labor needed to set up the towers in these areas.
In addition to providing equal access to broadband in the underserved markets Paladin Wireless operates in we are also overcoming one of the biggest barriers to economic development within these areas.