The Digital Divide
The Springfield News Springfield Oregon Newspaper Release February 18th, 2005
Posted: Feb 18, 2005
- 10:24:34 PST
| The digital
divide: High-speed Internet access can be hard to come by in rural
||Steve Wood of
Christmas Treasures maintains an on-line catalogue for the
business near Blue River. Without a broadband Internet connection,
the business would likely have been forced to move because of the
volume of on-line business they conduct. JOHN GUSSENHOVEN The
People in urban
communities increasingly take it for granted.
But for those who live in rural areas, a high-speed Internet
connection can be as hard to get a hold of as a parking spot at an
outlet mall the day after Thanksgiving.
According to Lane County's Community and Economic Development Program,
the "digital divide" between rural and urban communities is a critical
issue in today's society.
simply because effective telecommunication technology provides for not
only increased economic development opportunities, but also increased
educational opportunities, improved health care and greater access to
Dial-up: A connection via a modem
and a public telephone network. Dial-up access is really just like a
phone connection, except that the parties at the two ends are computer
devices rather than people. Because dial-up access uses normal
telephone lines, the quality of the connection is not always good and
data rates are limited. In the past, the maximum data rate with
dial-up access was 56 Kbps (56,000 bits per second), but new
technologies such as ISDN are providing faster rates. An alternative
way to connect two computers is through a leased line, which is a
permanent connection between two devices. Leased lines provide faster
throughput and better quality connections, but they are also more
Just ask Steve Wood, who maintains the Web site for Christmas
Treasures, a store that specializes in traditional ornaments and items
for giving and collecting.
The business does a large portion of its business online, especially
during the tourist off-season.
"Without broadband, there's just no way we could do what we do.
Without broadband there's just no way we could be here," said Wood.
"Here" is along the idyllic McKenzie Highway, just past Blue River on
the scenic route towards Bend.
Wood, whose parents, Patrick and Nancy, have owned and operated the
store since 1993, said not having access to high-speed Internet "would
have hindered growth."
"With broadband, whatever your (online) job is, you can do it faster,"
The importance of having a fast Internet connection was so pressing
that at one time, the family business was considering putting in a T-1
line -- an expensive solution usually only used by large companies who
need access to a fast internet service 24 hours a day.
But that was before Quest installed equipment that gives most people
who live within a three-mile radius of a DSL central in Blue River
access to broadband.
Between dial-up and broadband, Wood said, Christmas Treasures used a
satellite connection -- a fast but not cheap alternative to broadband
-- to maximize productivity.
Ken Engelman, publisher of McKenzie River Reflections -- the weekly
newspaper covering the McKenzie River area -- is one of those who need
a fast internet service but can't get access to broadband.
He lives a mile or so up Highway 242, the scenic highway through
McKenzie Pass to Sisters.
Engelman, who downloads large advertisements from customers and
uploads large amounts of data when he's putting the newspaper
together, said only having dial-up meant it took him 45 minutes to
download an advertisement.
With a satellite Internet connection (satellites run at roughly $600
for the equipment and $60 to $70 for the monthly service), downloading
will go 20 times faster and uploading five times faster, he said.
Engelman said with a satellite connection, he also won't have to worry
about being "bumped off " the Internet, which happens regularly when
people with a dial-up connection download large blocs of data.
Although he's had a satellite Internet connection only for a short
time, Engelman said he has already experienced the fruits of his
And he believes others in need of high speed Internet in rural areas
who can't get broadband access would feel the same way.
"I am certain that once someone is exposed to this, they wouldn't want
to change back either."
Lauran Davidson and Ada June Tolliver also live along the McKenzie.
Both of them work from home and are dependent on efficient Internet
access to do their work.
But circumstances beyond their reach are making it hard for them to do
Davidson, who currently does consulting work for Lane Transit
District, said there is no broadband access where he lives.
For some, paying $600 for a satelite and $60 to $70 in monthly rates
would be considered expensive. But for Davidson, money isn't the
"I'd pay $90 bucks in a heartbeat (for satellite internet access)," he
But a couple of fir trees on a neighbor's property would block
satellite signals from reaching a dish on Davidson's house -- which
serves to illustrate that it isn't always just the lack of broadband
access that prevents people from getting high-speed Internet.
Peter Thurston, Lane County's community economic development
coordinator, is very familiar with the Internet access issue for
people in rural communities.
According to Thurston, rural communities must overcome three
challenges when looking at solutions to get high-speed Internet
"The challenge is getting the information in a form that people can
digest and understand what it means while it is changing under them,"
Thurston also said communities must find out what they believe is
their role in finding solutions to get Internet access.
In other words, should the community pool its own money? Should they
expect cable or phone companies to pony up for all costs, or should
private companies and communities share the costs?
Thirdly, Thurston said, rural communities must find out what different
initiatives would cost, and where to find the funding for them.
And in this day and age, when the Internet is playing a bigger role in
most people's lives, such information can't be compiled fast enough.
"Communities that have been there for decades, such as logging
communities -- their character has changed. If they are going to be
able to change revenue (flow while) maintaining their way of
existence, they need to be able to provide what's expected of people
who come to visit," Thurston said.
There are many ways to connect
Definition of different types of internet connections and systems,
according to Webopedia, an online computer technology dictionary:
Broadband: A method in which a
single wire can carry several channels at once. Cable TV, for example,
uses broadband transmission. In contrast, baseband transmission allows
only one signal at a time. Most communications between computers,
including the majority of local-area networks, use baseband
T-1: A dedicated phone connection
supporting data rates of over 1.5 megabits per second. A T-1 (the T
stands for "Trunk") line actually consists of 24 individual channels,
each of which supports 64 kilobits per second. Each 64Kbit/second
channel can be configured to carry voice or data traffic. Most
telephone companies allow you to buy just some of these individual
channels, known as fractional T-1 access. T-1 lines are a popular
leased line option for businesses connecting to the Internet and for
Internet service providers connecting to the Internet "backbone." The
Internet backbone itself consists of even faster T-3 connections. T-1
lines are sometimes referred to as DS1 lines.
Broadband over powerline:
BPL feeds low-power radio signals over power lines. A BPL modem plugs
into a regular electrical outlet, receives the radio signals from
power lines and converts them into a digital Internet connection (This
solutions is some years away, due to federal regulatory issues).
LAN: "Local area network," a
computer network that spans a relatively small area. Most LANs are
confined to a single building or group of buildings. However, one LAN
can be connected to other LANs over any distance via telephone lines
and radio waves. A system of LANs connected in this way is called a
wide-area network (WAN). Most LANs connect workstations and personal
computers. There are many different types of LANs Ethernets being the
most common for PCs. Most Apple Macintosh networks are based on
Apple's AppleTalk network system, which is built into Macintosh
computers. LANs are capable of transmitting data at very fast rates,
much faster than data can be transmitted over a telephone line; but
the distances are limited, and there is also a limit on the number of
computers that can be attached to a single LAN.
Reporter Ben Raymond Lode can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at (541)
746-1671, Ext. 316.
The store's Web address is: www.christmas-treasures.com