CLAY COUNTY, Mo. — Trying to watch a movie at the home of Michael and Jessica Alexander will try your patience. They live just 30 miles from Kansas City in rural Clay County, but they experience constant internet frustration.
It takes so long to load a movie that even their three young children lose interest.
“The test I ran the other day is .19 megabit, which is comparable to dial up,” said Michael Alexander, who since the pandemic is working from home as a systems engineer.
His wife Jessica, a professional photographer, drives three miles to a coffee shop in Kearny when she needs to download photo files.
“It’s insane,” she said.
And a huge problem in an increasingly internet connected world, particularly now when people are working, studying and even attending church from home.
The Alexanders aren’t alone. Their subdivision and an adjacent one comprise more than 50 homes, none have reliable internet.
“CenturyLink has a presence in this neighborhood, but it’s not a modern connection and they refuse to upgrade,” Michael said.
CenturyLink’s fiber optic line is less than a quarter of a mile away from the Alexander’s subdivision — so close that some of CenturyLink’s trucks will even park there.
“It’s like salt in the wound,” Michael said.
Neighbor Dane Hammer, a software engineer who also works from home, has given up on his computer for video conferences. He relies on his phone, but the signal is so bad he had to spend $400 installing a cell booster on his roof.
“Just so I can get screen calls on my phone,” Hammer said.” I can’t get it to work on my computer.”
So what can they do? CenturyLink told FOX4 that “sparsely populated areas are difficult for any communications provider to serve due to the costs. We’re always looking at ways to expand our broadband service, which includes working with policy makers on creative public-private partnerships.”
FOX4 Problem Solvers then called Clay County government to see what it was doing to spur a “public-private partnership” and we were surprised by the response. Assistant County Administrator Nicole Brown told FOX4 “the availability of internet services are dependent on the internet service providers and not controlled by the government.”
But as Fox 4 Problem Solvers discovered, that’s not true. The Trump administration has allocated $1.1 billion to expand rural high-speed broadband access. Local governments can apply for the money and many have but not Clay County despite pleas from its own citizens for help.
So for now this a problem far from being solved. But there is a solution if Clay County decides to help.