The Way I See it: A Student’s Take on the Broadband Issue

Posted: August 26, 2011

As a college student I spend a significant number of my waking hours online. You might be thinking that all my peers and I are capable doing online is browsing Facebook and other social networking sites. But you’d be wrong. Yes, social networking is a part of my life, but Internet use plays a significant role in my work environment and my life as a Penn State student as well.

I am aware that I take my constant accessibility for granted. But I never knew how much until one night this winter when several places on campus lost Internet connection during a snow storm, my dorm included.

It certainly did not take long for my roommate and I to discover that neither of us could do anything we had planned that night. We weren’t able to access our online readings and homework assignments. We couldn’t do any research. We couldn’t even order a midnight snack from our favorite delivery restaurant.

We tried in vain for almost an hour before finally accepting that we weren’t going to get our Internet back in time to do our work.

Internet controls our lives much more than we probably think it does, which is why I took an interest in the Adams County Economic and Community Partnership during my first few weeks as a program assistant at Penn State Extension.

The Partnership is composed of individuals serving many different roles in the community.  Among their ranks are leaders from community organizations and local government representatives, as well as several others.

A current topic of discussion within the partnership is how to make broadband access the standard in Adams County. To be honest, I was surprised that there was even a debate about whether to push the project forward because I view the implementation of a broadband access standard as a no-brainer.

Maybe it’s because I’m a media studies major and have a good understanding of what broadband could mean for a community. Or maybe it’s simply because I use broadband in a much different way than many of the partners.

I grew up with technology. I can remember my parents purchasing our first computer, but I really don’t remember what life was like before it. And now I can’t imagine a life without it.

So how do I use broadband now?

The Internet rules my college education. Two of my classes so far were entirely online. And I would guess that at least 80 percent of my classes have included online readings, quizzes or other activities.

Many college students also use the Internet to schedule courses, communicate with professors and classmates, turn in papers, do research and access reading materials. There is even an online testing center on Penn State’s campus where students complete exams on secure computers.

This list of uses is by no means exclusive. A college education would be nearly impossible without a computer and high speed Internet connection.

Many adults argue that since they managed to get through school without a computer or constant broadband access, their kids should be able to do so as well. But that’s just not how the current world works.

Those of us who were lucky enough to grow up with technology readily available understand it. It’s how we learn.

We read online versions of newspapers to stay up to date on current events. We can share our favorite news clips via Facebook and Twitter. We have even developed our own language for these kinds of activities.

The reality is that we don’t know how to live without these tools. We could argue until the end of time that this dependence on technology is harmful to society, but that won’t change anything.

Refusing to accept our current and growing need for broadband won’t prevent the rest of the world from moving forward. Rather, we would see an increasing information gap between those who have access and those who do not.

According to the Federal Communications Commission’s National Broadband Plan, those most likely to adapt to and make use of broadband have a college education. These are people who understand the advantages to having a high speed Internet connection. These are also the people who have the greatest access to news, educational videos and information sharing from around the world. They will continue to move ahead while others stand still.

And technology can change and improve so rapidly that not having that kind of access to information becomes more detrimental each day.

I don’t expect to convince everyone that broadband is necessary. But I will leave you with this:

My generation is accustomed to constant broadband access. We need it for just about everything we do from school to work to recreation. And I can guarantee that we will expect that kind of access when we enter the workforce, as will each rising generation. Those who do not have the skills to use the Internet now will not be able to keep up.