Officials are calling it a "big digital divide” between rural communities and urban areas. Many towns across the United States still don't have the option to have high-speed Internet, and officials say they're at risk for being stuck on slow Internet for longer than expected.
“What was acceptable in terms of speed and quantity is just no longer appropriate,” Pennsylvania Public Utility Commissioner David Sweet told Fox News. “[The issue] is widespread throughout the United States.”
Some small-town residents say it’s nearly impossible to do simple tasks like check email and stream videos. Eric Pelka, a post office employee in Julian, Pa., told Fox News at times they had to turn seven to eight people away a day because of poor Internet connection.
"We couldn’t accept any credit cards without the Internet,” Pelka said about customers trying to purchase stamps and other products. "Those seven to eight people a day I turned away, that’s revenue for this office that could help keep it afloat. Just wasn’t here because I couldn’t charge them”
Now officials say these towns might not get fast Internet anytime soon because they say Verizon declined $140 million in federal help through the FCC. The federal agency created the Connect America Fund initiative to give high-speed Internet access to rural communities. "Reform will not only drive economic growth in rural America, but will expand the online marketplace nationwide, creating jobs and businesses opportunities across the country,” the FCC’s website states.
Telecom companies took $160 million in help for Pennsylvania residents, but the $140 million that Verizon rejected could be lost for good. That money will now be put in a pool of funding to be auctioned, and the bidders may not use that money for Pennsylvania communities, Sweet said.
Sweet added it’s not fair for the funds to be auctioned to another bidder because that money comes directly from a surcharge Pennsylvania residents pay on their phone bills. “It kind of adds insult to injury to pay this fee and have it go to Washington and not get any of it back" Sweet and other state officials are petitioning to the FCC in hopes that the money will be given back to the state where he says they need it most.
Verizon says it supports the efforts to bring that money back into the state, even though the telecom giant declined it. "We committed to a certain amount of Fios network build and since 2010 have focused on completing that work before looking at building fiber in new areas,” the telecom company said in a statement.
Meanwhile, many residents are hoping their petition for high-speed Internet will give them a resource they say they need.
“Every single day we’re running thousands of dollars worth of payments on the cars and if we have no Internet, we can’t do that,” Chad Andrus said about his used car dealership in Julian, Pa.
“This office could get cut down even more down to a four-hour office which, I know from talking to people in this town, they don’t want to see that happen,” Pelka said of the small-town post office.