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
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," he said.
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 investment.
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 so.
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 problem.
"I'd pay $90 bucks in a heartbeat (for satellite internet access)," he said.
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 access.
"The challenge is getting the information in a form that people can digest and understand what it means while it is changing under them," he said.
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: