The Internet is a critical highway Mainers need to access every day

I’m one of the least tech-savvy people out there. I openly admit it and just about anyone around me (including the very patient people at the BDN) can attest to my mad lack of skills. I am the queen of “can you help me … how do you do that … can you make this work for me … I think I did something wrong …”

I got my first cellphone in January, and I still don’t know how to work “hold.” No matter what I do, I lose both calls, so I’ve just quit trying.

As for a nuanced understanding of the systems that comprise the Internet, for all I know, it could be that “series of tubes” some politician was maligned for calling it. I didn’t know much about the battle over whether government should regulate those tubes, either. Until recently, my knowledge of that was limited to the clip of John Oliver going in on the Net Neutrality debate.

But then I found out I couldn’t hold my Internet provider accountable for failing to provide the service they said they were. It’s a long stupid story spanning months of problems and an eventual upgrade to resolve ongoing problems. Of course the upgrade didn’t work for the same reasons the original service didn’t work, which, if the provider had done more than reset the router and tell me to replace the filters, the provider could have anticipated.

At the point I found out that I’ve been paying for a service that didn’t work, but could have been easily fixed, my head exploded, and I called the Public Utilities Commission to learn that Internet providers are not regulated under their jurisdiction. It turns out my only options for recourse are a voluntary mediation process through the Attorney General’s office or small claims court or a private attorney.

And to get my service through another provider. Ironically, the provider the person at the PUC recommended is one of the companies John Oliver identified as fighting Internet regulations. Translation: I should get my Internet from the company fighting to keep me from being able to hold Internet providers accountable.

This situation led me to two conclusions. First, the Internet is a critically important highway that almost anyone working today accesses daily to conduct business. Second, if the federal government can’t get out of its own way to make sure this highway is accessible to all, state and local governments are going to have to. The business community needs to step up, as well.

I mean, if I was having such trouble just trying to maintain a connection to be a part-time blogger in the more populated area in which I live, it’s no wonder we can’t jump-start our economy.

I was thrilled to see the city of Sanford stepped up for its residents—the city plans to create the state’s largest municipal broadband network.  And I was thrilled to see that Redzone is expanding its service area. If government won’t help with accountability, maybe a little market competition can.

In this day and age, any economic development starts with state-wide, quality, high-speed Internet access. From looking for a job to cashing people out at points of sale, the Internet is an essential part of every facet of economic activity. Economic development without state-wide high-speed Internet access would be like expecting tourism to flourish without the Kittery Bridge, I-95, or Route 1.

Patricia Callahan

About Patricia Callahan

Trish is a writer who lives in Augusta. She has worked professionally in education and social services.