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    Watching 'House of Cards' from Across the Digital Divide

    Written by

    Michael Byrne


    So, I just finished Deadwood again, a most reworthy rewatching even given the supremely unjust non-conclusion. This means that it's time for a new serial drama. The problem is that I'm pretty much out of old and newish things that I could download or get on DVD. Currently, it's a holding pattern of torrented old seasons of Top Chef and The Venture Brothers reviewing. What I'd really like to watch is House of Cards, the allegedly changing-everything, streaming-only Netflix show. And what makes me really want to see it is the simple fact that I can't.

    The problem is that I live in the sticks and like a lot of people that live in the sticks, I have terrible internet service. Terrible internet service is my only option; no dial-up, broadband, cable, fiber-optic, or whatever comes after that. We can only get satellite internet, costing about $100 a month for speeds that vary between unusuable and "OK." Satellite also features a download cap low enough such that just an image-heavy workday becomes precarious, and video streaming is just not possible. Instead, our strategy is to download a bunch of stuff at some coffeeshop or the library in town and watch it .mp4 old-school style. It's pretty annoying.

    Currently, about 19 million households lack access to broadband internet service, according to the FCC, while about two million people live in wireless "dead zones." The U.S. government is currently throwing some money at the rural internet divide problem, but when the first phase of its wireless access-expansion program is done in three years, only about one-tenth more area will see 3G or 4G wireless coverage. If streaming-only shows like House of Cards is the future of media, as seems to be the consensus, then that future is arriving much faster and at a faster rate than access. It's natural: the future is driven by money, and access is driven by, well, the Obama adminstration. Turns out running cable out to some busted trailers in the desert isn't a big money-maker. 

    House of Cards rips are all over the Pirate Bay right now, unsurprisingly, but illegal torrenting isn't really an answer, at least in the grand scheme. Mostly there just isn't an answer. Technology is always racing ahead of a large part of the population, for reasons beyond geography. But, with information and media, it's different. With media, we're talking about how peope define themselves in relation to the rest of the world, form affiliations, experience different communities, and, crucially, find opporitunities.

    So this is obviously less about House of Cards than a future of people actually living in the same country. That would be nice. The ugly situation is that, increasingly, Americans just aren't living in the same country as any reasonably high-res red-blue map of the US will tell you. 

    Top: Barry Ramsay runs a business in rural Idaho. One time his internet connection went out went bears jostled a nearby tower (via Rajah Bose / NYT)

    Reach this writer at michaelb@motherboard.tv.