A lot of the talk about providing better Internet infrastructure in West Virginia is focused on making the state a better place to do business, and helping us attract new industries.
And that’s definitely important. But equally important are the needs of residents and families.
There are a lot of West Virginians out there like me, who aren’t necessarily employers or business owners, who feel the real impact that poor Internet service has on everyday life in our communities — particularly outside the main cities.
I live in Whitesville in Boone County. We are only about an hour south of Charleston, but there is no reliable cell service for about 45 minutes in any direction. Without cell service, and in a time when more people choose not to have a landline, we are dependent on the Internet for so much — paying our bills, staying in touch with friends and family, and sharing information via email or Facebook with others in our community.
Here, the Internet isn’t just for playing games, streaming video and buying things on Amazon. It’s an essential tool for our basic day-to-day lives. Reliable and affordable high-speed Internet is not a luxury for us; it’s core to so much of everything we do as families and as a community.
Here in Whitesville, a lack of communication options is now becoming yet another challenge for us to overcome, as we, as a community, try and rebound from some very hard times in recent years.
At the moment the people of Whitesville are involved in the Turn This Town Around initiative, in which many of us are working together on small community development projects aimed at making Whitesville a better place to live and visit.
Community development work like this requires one very important ingredient — communication. We need to be able to share information — like where is the fundraiser being held, what time does the farmers market start and when is the next meeting about the rail-trail project?
Tackling this problem head on, we recently created a blog and newsletter, to try and keep everyone updated and working together. But when the Internet that we need to stay connected is both unreliable and expensive, it is hard. We are all working to revitalize the town, just a little, and be masters of our own destiny. But poor Internet infrastructure is making it harder to do that. And it’s something that we can’t fix on our own.
Lack of reliable Internet service also creates a public safety concern for rural residents. When the Internet goes down, which it often does, we have no back-up communication system in the case of an emergency. This is a dangerous situation to be in, in a place where there is no cell phone service.
If our state legislators can find a way to improve Internet infrastructure in West Virginia, I can tell you the people in Whitesville, and communities like ours around the state, will certainly thank them!