When one of my sons compared using our old satellite Internet service to drinking a slushie through a coffee stirrer, this seemed to me like a good thing. Didn't that keep us from consuming too much junk, too fast?
So maybe I'm not the ideal advocate for increased broadband service.
But I do know how to Google, and the experts I read online say that virtual highways are as necessary for economic development as real ones — and that the United States is falling behind.
We rank 17th globally in broadband and cell phone access, according to a 2009 United Nations study. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who beats this drum frequently, recently wrote that China has 200 million Internet users with broadband access, compared to 80 million in the U.S.
He has also written that China is spending its stimulus money to lay the foundation of a new economy, an imaginative approach that puts us to shame. If you check out what's happening locally, you'll find that of the 16 federal stimulus projects approved in Hernando, one calls for widening a highway, two for building sidewalks and all the rest for repaving roads.
Useful work, certainly, but not exactly placing us on the technological vanguard.
That's why I was glad to hear that the federal government had set aside $7.2 billion in stimulus money for expanding high-speed Internet networks, and that Withlacoochee River Electric Cooperative was helping to claim a share for Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties.
And when that effort fizzled out two weeks ago — Withlacoochee decided the potential returns didn't justify the expense — it seemed a significant missed opportunity.
David Lambert, the cooperative's spokesman, said the total cost of the project could have ranged from $40 million to $150 million, with a 25 percent local match that would have had to come from Withlacoochee and a Tampa-based Internet service provider, Rapid Systems. There was also the worry that, with the advancement of wireless technology, the entire system might soon be obsolete.
On the other hand, think about how badly this area needs to grow, and to grow in a new direction — and this seems a perfect fit.
It's not just the isolated corners of these counties that would benefit. High-speed service is spotty in large parts of Hernando, and the fiber-optic cable that Withlacoochee planned to lay offered speeds of up to 100 megabytes per second.
"That would be fantastic,'' said Charles Bennett, who recently moved his high-end car wax business to the eastern edge of Brooksville, where he has to get by with enhanced dial-up.
Better access could help some of the 24 percent of the students at Pasco-Hernando Community College who take classes online. And with top-end fiber-optic access, a local network engineer told me, it's possible to run a full-service technology company from home.
We shouldn't give up just yet, said Dustin Jarman of Rapid Systems. He suggested that everybody involved sit down one more time before next month's deadline and see if they can substitute the cash match with in-kind contributions of labor and expertise.
Good idea. Because even I know that we could use a bigger straw.