Widgetized Section

Go to Admin » Appearance » Widgets » and move Gabfire Widget: Social into that MastheadOverlay zone

Internet, Infrastructure and Me

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Dwight Vick
June 14, 2021

The COVID-19 Pandemic resulted in the death of 600K Americans, sickened millions and inconvenienced all of us. While we as a nation and a world may not be out of the woods, we are seeing the forest’s edge in the distance. My family and I lost friends because of the virus. One of my wife’s first-grade students lost all of his grandparents within a five-day period. All asymptomatic, the student and his siblings contracted COVID-19 at school and took it home. Two friends with underlying health issues contracted the virus and nearly died. The only way we could provide emotional support was virtually through Facebook, Zoom, online educational systems like Blackboard, Skyward, ECHO 360, Zoom, WebEx and CANVAS to our students, friends and family members. My wife and I coordinated our grandson’s educational needs with his kindergarten teacher and his parents to have individualized half-day school at our home. Our grandson’s name is Ayden. Before we knew it, three of Ayden’s cousins from his mother’s family were joining us for half-day school at Grandma’s and Grandpa’s house.

We were lucky. We had reliable internet. Many of our students, family and friends did not.

For far too long our nation and communities ignored internet access in rural communities. We live in Amarillo, Texas, a city with a population of 250,000 citizens. One internet provider dominates the local market. While other internet companies exist in our area, one provider owns the lines and other providers must pay for access. The larger company charges less, has less-optimal access and outsourced customer service providers. If a technician needs to visit our home, we may have to wait five days before he or she arrives. I am now self-taught in at-home internet service repair. COVID-19 left me no other choice. We cannot wait until fiber optic is available in our neighborhood.

Not only did we have half-day school for four elementary school boys, but we also taught online. My wife uploaded schoolwork on Skyward then spent half the mornings and evenings calling over 20 parents, many of whom had no internet, telling them how to use their phone to instruct their children, her students. I am an instructor with Texas A&M International University based in Laredo. I teach online. TAMIU’s political science and MPA students are the best students I have taught in decades. But some of them had unreliable internet. Others used Wi-Fi on their cell phones to access and navigate Blackboard. It was a challenge. We set up a schedule. My wife, Krista, began accessing the internet and met with her students and parents from 8 to 10 a.m. I picked up the boys at 10 a.m. and accessed their homework. Often overloaded, we downloaded their assignments and made adjustments. Science became nature walks. Physical education was a baseball game. We incorporated math with PE by measuring the ball’s speed and distance, the impact wind had on a ball. Health included the importance of eating a balanced diet so one could hit the ball. We sorted laundry by color. Only the deities of the world know how many books we read to prevent the COVID-19 reading slide. The students went home mid-afternoon. At that time, I went online until 5 p.m. Krista used the nternet for the next two hours and I taught starting at 7 p.m., ending around 9. On quieter days and times, I worked with organizations on grant writing and consulted on contracts with ECHO 360, Zoom, CANVAS and WebEx.

We lived virtually.

Our nation’s internet infrastructure is vital to our economy, our security and our lives. COVID-19 showed us, at least here as did the Texas-center polar vortex, that we are far more dependent upon the internet than we realized. But access is a challenge for over 25% of our homes and unaffordable to many families living paycheck-to-paycheck. If one lives in rural communities or small towns or cities, like Amarillo, reliable and affordable internet may not be available due to structural monopolies or the lack of a ditch to bury the cable. Many buildings are incapable of retrofitting for the service. Things that could correct the problem include a market shift away from private ownership to instead creating public-private partnerships, considering the internet as a public utility, investments into upgrades for underground assets where gas, water and internet lines are created and allowing all Americans the ability to choose from a variety of private-sector providers. These options could also provide affordable access and allow the public sector and public administrators to work with local and state economic development councils and private sector organizations to invest and expand.

COVID-19 presented many challenges that impacted all of us, some more seriously than others. We cannot forget it. But the one thing that allows us to remain connected, employed and virtually present in the classroom and the hospital room was the internet. By redefining access and encouraging private-public partnerships, investing in our future will make internet access for Ayden a staple, just as electricity was to my grandparents, refrigeration to my parents and computers to me.

 Author: Dwight Vick, Ph.D. is a 28-year-long ASPA member. An adjunct professor, he owns D.A.V.E – Dwight A. Vick Enterprises, a consulting and grant writing business.

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (No Ratings Yet)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *