Last weekend, many residents of Southern Boone County unexpectedly found themselves without internet and cellular service. It is not uncommon to lose one service or the other from time to time, especially in rural areas such as ours, but losing both at once for a full 24 hours is quite unusual. For many people, including my family, “unusual” is not a strong enough word to describe the outage. “Apocalyptic” seems more fitting.
For folks without good old-fashioned landline telephones still connected in their homes, losing internet and cell phone service last Saturday morning meant losing their connection to the outside world. It was as if the residents of Ashland and Hartsburg were suddenly thrown back in time to the early 1990s; a prehistoric era according to my technology-dependent children.
I remember the early ‘90s well. Back then, human beings would often visit with one another “in person.” This radical concept involved driving an automobile or riding a bicycle and paying a visit to someone at their domicile or some other agreed upon location. These face-to-face interactions were commonplace back in those days. Strangely, people who conversed in this way actually made eye-contact with one another rather than staring at hand-held, attention-stealing, electronic devices. Crazy, right?
During last weekend’s internet apocalypse, my 17 year-old son Alex talked to his parents, did laundry, cooked breakfast, and read a printed-and-bound book. My younger kids played with one another, interacted with their mother and grandmother, and demonstrated that they have creative and vivid imaginations.
My spouse suffered a great deal from the technological cataclysm, though. While I was away at a funeral, Bethany left a voice mail on my cell phone letting me know that I would need to call the home phone (the one that she has been threatening to disconnect due to lack of use) if I needed to reach her because the internet and cell phones weren’t working in Ashland. I called her when I received the message and she filled me in on the trauma that the outage had inflicted upon everyone. Then, towards the end of our conversation, she added, “Did you get my message about the internet and cell phones being down?” Um, yes dear. That’s what we just spent the last ten minutes discussing. The poor thing.
Being without the internet and cell phones is frustrating. My daughter Tiana had an online math assignment that she needed to finish over the weekend, so the whole family had to pack up and head to grandma’s house in Columbia in order to utilize her internet connection. Alex and Truman played online video games there and watched YouTube videos. For a few hours, everyone’s internet addiction was satisfied, until the next morning at our house when we all emerged from our respective caves and stepped back into the Stone Age once again.
Our services were eventually restored late Sunday morning. Rumors circulated on Facebook that the outages were the result of problems with two to four cell towers and/or a broken fiber optic cable. Maybe it was caused by a North Korean EMP (electromagnetic pulse) attack. Maybe it was Russia. Maybe Hillary Clinton’s missing emails broke the internet. Or Kim Kardashian’s backside.
I don’t know what caused the Ashland Internet Apocalypse of 2017, but I do know that access to reliable and affordable communications services in this modern age is essential. Now that net neutrality regulations have been discarded by Trump’s FCC, internet service providers (ISPs) will have unlimited power to manipulate the web and control access to its content.
Without legal protections in place, ISPs can charge companies exorbitant amounts of money for their websites to be accessible to potential customers. The ISPs will have the power to pick and choose what content subscribers are allowed to view. They will be able to slow down connection speeds and charge more money to speed them back up. Before net neutrality protections were established in 2015, ISPs were already starting to implement these restrictions on the internet and on free expression. Some providers blocked certain apps from being available on their brand of cell phones. Others throttled down connection speeds in order to extract more money from customers for faster service.
It is not a stretch to imagine that giving mega corporations (driven by an insatiable hunger for profit) absolute power over deciding what content users of the internet are allowed to view, will result in suppression of competing viewpoints and of free speech. Then, the real internet apocalypse will be upon us.