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Blog // Connect Ohio

Live Radio with Call-Ins: Underserved Rural Americans

By Rachel O'Morrow

On Thursday June 22, Connect Ohio’s Stu Johnson arrived through the back doors of Idea Stream, WCPN’s NPR news station for The Sound of Ideas public affairs show. Johnson was escorted back to the green room to wait until the show was ready to air. He pulled out his notes, charts, and graphs to prepare for the live show and be ready to answer listener call-in questions. Once in the studio the host adjusted his microphone and headset, and then the show went live.

Johnson began to discuss the importance of accurate data for rural broadband expansion and overall online equality for rural residents. He explained the small gaps of land that don’t receive internet coverage and that these areas can be overlooked.

“We’re starting to eliminate the areas with no access, but the question now is, what is adequate access?” said Johnson (left in photo). “A lot of our rural areas have a huge demand for broadband . . . we need to make sure that we precisely target our budget to underserved and unserved areas, and that starts with accurate data.”

On the line waiting to speak next was Ashtabula County Commissioner Casey Kozlowski who sees firsthand how not having adequate access affects residents there.

“Here there are areas that don’t have access to reliable high-speed internet that I consider almost a necessary utility,” he said.

Many small businesses, residents, and the agricultural community would love to be able to use high-speed internet access to make purchases online, for higher education opportunities, and to tend to their finances.

“There would absolutely be greater community development with everyone having high-speed internet,” said Kozlowski.

Next up to talk was Celia Swanson, director of a district library in Portage County. It is a large rural area with several pockets of either no service or inadequate service.

“There’s an educational impact when you have high-speed access . . . dial-up is an inadequate speed so many students have to spend hours to download homework,” said Swanson.

“One of the programs that we recently started was a lending program for mobile Wi-Fi, so that people can borrow a device for two weeks at a time that allows them access to the internet in their homes.”

Swanson also stated, “Our library leaves the Wi-Fi on 24/7 and people will sit in our parking lot to use the Wi-Fi whether they’re traveling or trying to do business . . . which sometimes really puts this topic into perspective.”

Johnson added that we need to remember to get access to residents and agriculture businesses.

“The notion that the federal government is going to fix this through some kind of capital bill . . . it isn’t going to happen. It’s going to require a state initiative,” said Johnson.

“Connect Ohio has acted as the temporary broadband office, but participation from providers and residents has all been voluntary, based on the great work that we do. We believe that Ohio needs a broadband office and that there should be a state developer working with what we want to do and working with agencies and committees to get things done,” he mentioned.

Renee, a teacher from a rural community, called in and explained one of the things that always seem to get overlooked in these conversations is the students.

“I have students who don’t have a computer at home and don’t have internet access at home . . . if they’re lucky they’re doing their homework on their cell phone,” she said.

“Think about doing a research paper on a cell phone and using your data. That is 100 percent an economic impact because those students are at such a disadvantage in the education sector.”

Renee continued to speak and said, “You can tell in the engagement and the performance of the students of those who have internet access at home and those who don’t.”

The topic of whether or not internet access is a human right was debated next since it seems like there is much disadvantage between students who have internet access and those who don’t.

“We don’t have this right yet, but we haven’t forgotten about the students because four out of five students do homework on the internet. As a society we assume everyone is connected and has the skills to use it,” said Johnson.

“Even if the school offers technology, it is unfair that one child goes home and is expected to have the same resources to complete the work,” he said.

Policy will continue to be discussed in further conversations regarding high-speed internet access and adequacy in rural America. The conversation and action does not stop here.

To listen to the broadcast from last week click here.



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