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Remember terms like “information superhighway” and “Internet onramp”? Well, now there’s a new transportation analogy for discussing Internet access: “digital dirt road.”

Like real dirt roads, you’re more likely to find them in rural America than in the suburbs, according to an online report. (A 2005 survey found that 24 percent of rural adults went online with high-speed access at home, compared with 39 percent of urban and suburban adults.)

The folks at Internet for Everyone (a broadband access campaign) spent a week touring rural North Carolina visiting people who get on the Internet the old fashioned way – through dialup modems. They present their findings in Five Days on a Digital Dirt Road.”

The report interviews a farmer, freelance writer, high school student, bed and breakfast owner, and others who describe the frustrations and limits of trying to do their work and studies on a slow Internet connection.

Writer Brooks Townes of Weaverville, N.C., describes dialup as like driving a dump truck instead of a Ferrari. He can’t download information fast enough to do his work.

Kim Foushee of Person County says it’s more like driving a Pinto. She says government needs to get more involved in building out high-speed access for rural areas.

The arguments are familiar. Lack of high-speed access limits economic and educational opportunity. While we might debate exactly how broadband contributes to economic development, there’s no refuting the experiences of these rural residents who are frustrated by slow download speeds.
But the folks featured in this report may have a hard time seeing it. The site includes well-edited videos that put names and faces on the Internet access story. And, ironically, probably make the files too big to download easily via dialup.

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