“I want to tell you my secret now…” “I see…” Do you want to know what Haley Joel Osment says in The Sixth Sense? What about this noise? For many Americans, slow internet or no internet is still a reality, and the internet speed in Nashville, Tennessee, might not be as fast in Nashville, Kansas. Besides missing “Stranger Things, having a slow connection can mean increased health risks, a limited education, or having less money, all of which, creates a divided country, because the fact is: all American internet is not equal. In 2015, The FCC defined “broadband” as internet with download speeds of at least 25 Megabits per second and uploads of at least 3. That basically means, a constant connection capable of streaming videos, sending messages, and transferring data. On multiple devices. Overall, 10 percent of Americans don’t have broadband. But rural areas suffer most. 39 percent of rural Americans, about 23 million people, don’t have high-speed internet. This map shows where broadband is available and areas it has yet to reach. In places where broadband adoption is higher, so is the number of people who’ve earned a college degree. Fewer people are unemployed, and the rates of poverty are also lower. Without fast internet, rural Americans have a difficult time accessing government services, like Medicare. And as education moves online, students struggle to complete assignments at home. In a few rural districts, superintendents have loaded school buses with wi-fi and parked them overnight in neighborhoods where kids need it to do their homework. These communities would benefit from broadband, so why don’t they have it? In cities, most broadband is “wireline”, which typically means it is delivered through fiber optic cables that have been laid in the ground. Laying cables is expensive, but there’s an incentive for providers: high population density means hundreds of people pay to access the same network. In rural areas, that’s not the case. So large telecoms, like AT&T and Comcast, don’t prioritize extending cable lines if they only reach a few people. But there is an alternative, and that’s “wireless” broadband: which is either beamed from a satellite, or relayed from the nearest fixed wireless point by antennas. In places like Appalachia or The Rocky Mountains, a wireless system can be an effective way to provide internet. But its quality is not as reliable as wireline. Outside of traditional providers, a few tech companies are trying to create new wireless options that could be used in rural areas around the world. This video is from Project Loon: Alphabet’s internet-beaming balloon system designed to connect people in remote areas using wireless technology. Like Loon, Facebook also has its own wireless project: a solar-powered drone called Aquila, which Mark Zuckerberg hopes will help reach, “half the world’s population — 4 billion people — –[who] still can’t access the internet.” And then, there’s Microsoft, which is focusing on rural broadband, here in America. Their plan is to send wireless internet using unlicensed television frequencies, called “white spaces”. While these companies pursue futuristic projects that focus on wireless, a proven example for providing wireline connections, in The US, lies in the opposite direction: The Past. In 1935, President Roosevelt created The Rural Electrification Administration, or “REA”, to deliver electricity to rural America. Before then, most Americans receiving electricity got it from private companies. But The REA changed that. It loaned federal funding to electric cooperatives that built power lines private companies wouldn’t. Within a few decades, most of America was electrified and now some of those same co-ops are providing internet. But unlike electrification, which relied almost entirely on co-ops, there are many models for deploying broadband. For example, the city of Cedar Falls, Iowa built its own municipal network and later used a portion of a federal grant to extend the network to nearby rural communities. “We are seizing the potential of the internet and other technologies.” For the past two decades, presidents have been allocating federal dollars for high-speed internet. “We must bring the promise of broadband technology to millions of Americans.” But rural broadband has been an evolving challenge. “When you look at the speeds we’re going to need for all the apps and the videos, and all the data, new software that is constantly coming onto market. We’ve got to keep pace. We’ve got to be up to speed.” President Obama increased funding and enabled municipal networks like the one in Cedar Falls, which are prohibited in other states. Now, President Trump is calling for even more investment, while also scaling back Obama’s policies. Standing near a tractor in June, President Trump announced his new infrastructure plan. “That is why I will be including a provision in our infrastructure proposal — $1 trillion dollar proposal, you’ll be seeing it very shortly to promote and foster enhanced broadband access for rural America, also!” The speech drew a big applause in Iowa, but but Trump’s commitment may have been misleading. Not only because the proposal has not arrived yet, but, less than two months after his speech, The FCC outlined priorities for the new administration, Including a suggestion to set a lower mobile broadband benchmark of 10 Megabits per second. That’s roughly equivalent to 4G mobile phone coverage, which most of America already receives from major providers. So if the broadband benchmark becomes 10, nearly all of America would be covered and the government could claim they’ve fulfilled their promise to increase rural broadband. But in reality, all they’ve done is redefined what it means to offer high speed internet. It would be a standard sufficient for social media and other apps, but falls short of the high speed service that can help schools, businesses, and rural healthcare facilities. On an international scale, it would signal that The FCC is fine with connectivity slower than mobile speeds in Kenya or Greece, both of which rank higher than The United States. Dropping the benchmark lowers the broadband goal, but using electrification as a funding model could help reach it where it is. Expansion is expensive. But history and research show that providing equal internet for all Americans is worth it.