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OPINION: Kids need reliable internet access

by Cassie McClure | January 25, 2021 at 1:46 a.m.

I've been working from home since 2017. In March 2020, my internet speed slowed to a grind. The new demand on the infrastructure was immediately evident, and I started having childhood flashbacks of waiting for images to load, line by pixelated line.

That said, my childhood was technologically abundant. I received a hand-me-down computer from my dad when I was 9. I'm already honing my grandmotherly tones so that I can properly share about the times of yore when the cranking gears of technology were audible and mimic the banshee screech of dial-up. It was the infancy of the internet, even before Elon Musk and his oversize suits had just an online bank.

Parental controls back then involved being told not to go on because my mom was expecting a call. While my dad may have had an idea of what I might encounter online — he was just as curious as I was — I don't recall any guidance. And I don't recall much of what I did then either. It was likely reading many, many articles about the movie "Titanic."

After one summer in a new town when I didn't know a soul -- my dad was in the military, and we moved a lot — the only social connections I found were online. At 14, I spent late hours chatting with dubious people around the world and watching fan-dubbed anime, after I'd let it download for a night or two.

While that still sounds somewhat tame, I am fearful for my kids and their journey onto the internet. It's not just that I remember the old websites I accidentally and purposefully landed on, or the racier conversations I had, or the things I saw that I probably shouldn't have. My worries land on them interacting with those who never grew up with unbridled internet access.

Many parents may not have background knowledge of the sharp corners of the internet; may not know to protect their children online, or how to; and, beyond that, may not be able to help their children grow with its educational opportunities, as was made heavily apparent by covid-19.

In rural states, a lack of internet access is due to a lack of infrastructure. Many homes and businesses do not have broadband, and many more lack competitive choices when it comes to internet providers, with climbing monthly costs putting that needed access on the chopping block when other bills arrive. The lack of broadband infrastructure is also a barrier to the growing use of tele-health care and economic development.

Two years ago, I traveled as an ambassador with a K-12 entrepreneurial program sponsored by an university. The director and I took two days to travel New Mexico, through the middle up the main highway, stopping at elementary schools along the way. We veered into the Navajo Nation in the northwest, driving by the haunting landscape that includes Shiprock. Then we went back down the state through a smaller road along which the towns have names like Little Water and Sheep Springs.

We decided to stop at one last elementary school before the end of the school day. The principal took some time and pulled us into her office. She had a walkie-talkie that chattered incessantly. She lowered the volume and explained that the school phone lines had been down for a few days. It was normal, but it made her the contact person to sort through the conflicting squawking from teachers and parents.

We brought small bags filled with printed material, but key parts of the free program were online. The principal tilted her head, stared down at the walkie-talkie and back at us. "We can't rely on the internet," she said.

Whether we like it or not, ours is a connected world, and our inability to be fully online hinders our growth and the equity of opportunities. Our children will only have the power to be a part of the future if they can compete with those in the rest of the world who have the knowledge at their hands and in their homes.

Cassie McClure is a writer, wife/mama/daughter, fan of the Oxford comma (sorry, Cassie) and drinker of tequila. Some of those things relate. She can be contacted at

cassie@mcclurepublications.com

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