Slow internet in a virtual classroom



“You keep cutting out.” 

“Your screen is all blurry.”

“There’s an echo in your audio.”

“It must be your Wi-Fi.”


At this point in the online school year, we have all heard at least one of these phrases or something of the sort be said to someone with a poor internet connection. 


However, if your experience these past few academic terms has been anything like mine, I can imagine that you are frequently on the receiving end of such complaints. If there are further similarities between our experiences, I can also imagine that you are feeling beyond frustrated trying to make it through this already challenging year while living in an area with poor internet coverage.


I live in a very rural area. My internet has been terrible compared to my peers for as long as I can remember. However, under normal circumstances, I could get by with minimal headaches. 


Most of my internet-related complaints prior to the pandemic were about how our poor Wi-Fi was preventing me from loading pictures on Instagram. Now, with my entire academic experience taking place online, this is raising some very problematic frustrations.


I was on a call with a few of my friends a couple of weeks ago. It is a running joke between us that my internet is notoriously bad. Out of curiosity, each of us went online to check our internet speeds. My one friend, who lives in a built-up city, tells us he is working with an over 900 megabits per second download speed. In other words, he will never need to worry about his Wi-Fi being too slow for anything.


 My other friend, who lives in a relatively small town near Brantford, shares that he has a download speed of around 450 megabits per second – about half of what our first friend has. But still, his internet is more than fast enough to never cause him any headaches. 


I’m, of course, the last person to chime in as it takes me the longest just to open Google and load its search results. I tell them that I’m working with a download speed of 4.63 megabits per second. It is worth mentioning that whenever our Wi-Fi speed surpasses 3 megabits per second, my dad happily exclaims how our internet is, “really fast today.”


My friends and I had a nice laugh about how ridiculously slow my internet is, but you can imagine my extreme frustration at being forced to stay at home and work through five courses at a time with an internet connection that unreliable. 


My internet is often so bad that I can not even properly participate in course lectures. I’m using my phone’s cellular data more than ever just to attend classes. Things that were previously non-issues now cause me anxiety attacks and, sometimes, huge drops in my grades. 


For example, everyone’s favourite software, Respondus Lockdown Browser, is now the standard for writing exams and quizzes. However, almost every time, it takes me three or four tries of going through the set-up process before I can actually access my test. 


In a few instances, it has taken me nearly a half hour of testing the extreme limits of my patience and sending out preemptively apologetic emails to my professors before I was able to log in to my exams. Usually by this point, I’m in tears of frustration and anxiety, which is of course is the worst possible frame of mind to begin writing an exam that is worth 50% of my grade. But, unfortunately, there is nothing I can do about it.


Daily activities such as Zoom calls or even just logging into my online courses often cause extreme frustration as well. It can take up to 30 seconds just to load MyLearningSpace. I feel as though I am living back in the early 2000s when I’d have to boot up my computer with a floppy disk. 


The difference was that, back then, high-speed internet and super quick computing power were not the expected norms. Now, the most important resource in the virtual landscape is a quick and reliable internet. After all, online school demands that you are… online—shocker, I know.


The point is that some of these inconveniences are only mere inconveniences when they happen once or twice. For those of us with poor internet coverage, these inconveniences occur multiple times daily. This results in actual concrete issues that do have very real implications on our grades and mental state.


I cannot call with peers to work on group assignments without having to apologize at least once about some inconvenience that my internet connection is causing for everyone. Every time I have attended my professors’ office hours, I receive complaints about how they can hear their own echo through my audio or how I keep cutting out to the point where they have no idea what I have just said. 


Do not even get me started on how frustrating it is to work on a Google Doc for group projects. If I’m lucky, my Wi-Fi will only cut out and the doc will only freeze once every 10 minutes or so. When I am not so fortunate, this occurs about once every 30 seconds.


A strong internet connection is, like most thingsa commodity. And, like most commodities in this great country of ours, many of us take for granted the luxuries that high-speed internet allows. For students or employees navigating their academic or work obligations in the virtual environment, their internet connection is something they only think twice about when it stops working. 


For those of us living in high-rise buildings or rural areas where our internet is laughably unreliable and slow, tasks that should be simple and not at all stressful can take a very long time and induce tears of frustration in the process.


When you have decent and reliable access to the internet you can do so much more with far less hassle. I only hope that this piece has helped shed some light on an issue that no one seems to talk about. 


Further, if you relate to the experiences and frustrations that I have mentioned, I just want to say that I know that your internet issues have made an already difficult time way more challenging, but the semester is almost over. Just hang in there.

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