We hear it over
and over that access to broadband is key to West Virginia’s future. As our
state and other rural communities continuously struggle with connecting
rural residents to the internet, President Trump and industry leaders are
now exploring ways to bring “5G” to the United States. At the same time,
rural states are struggling to bring basic services to the many valleys and
hollows our citizens call home. These are the same services much of America
can hardly fathom living one second without. Sadly, in rural America,
living without high-speed internet is a simple reality.
A recent incident
at my own home brought this issue full circle. While lying on my sofa one
morning, I felt a prick on my shin. A sudden kick threw a bat into the air.
Living in an old 1890s farm house near Blacksville, my wife Shirley and I
are used to the critters that share our home. The mystery of how that bat
ended up teeth deep into my leg we will save for another day.
After washing the
wound site, I immediately went online to see what next steps should be
taken, as well as how soon to seek professional medical care. Given the
remoteness of our home, the closest medical services are a 45-minute drive
to Morgantown. Long gone are the days of small-town doctors many of us
remember. Thankfully, my research concluded treatment was not necessary
immediately, so I could make that drive when convenient.
If I was not able
to conduct such a quick search, the rational choice would have been to seek
medical attention as soon as possible. Fortunately, my family can afford
satellite service, my only choice for internet, but that is not the case
for everyone. I wondered what one of the tens of thousands of West
Virginians without internet access would have done in a similar situation.
This would mostly likely entail waking up the family and driving to the
nearest emergency room. Not a convenient trip for those who enjoy remote
While waiting to
be seen by a medical professional, I had the opportunity to dig further
into our economic and broadband picture. Recent reports show that West
Virginia’s economy is indeed improving, but much of that growth is found in
fewer than 15 counties. The other 40 counties of this beautiful state have
something to offer, but without access to broadband it’s nearly impossible
to expect businesses to relocate to those areas. Even farming and
agriculture-based businesses are more reliant today on social media and
online marketing than just a few years ago.
Lack of access to
broadband is not only a prohibitor to attracting new industry to areas but
also a social well-being contributor. Many employees are unwilling to
relocate to communities unless they have reasonable access to a quality
education and healthcare. Both of these quality of life standards, because
of tele-medicine and alternative forms of learning, are becoming more
heavily reliant on broadband and will continue do so for the foreseeable
Looking past my
“batty” situation, if our goal is to continue to provide services to rural
areas and foster a better West Virginia, we will need to expand access to
broadband and do it quickly. Our nation’s leaders are looking to modernize
existing broadband infrastructure to help foster economic growth, as well
as tap into emerging industries and markets. If our state cannot catch up
to the rest of the nation, we once again look to be left behind.
Kent A. Leonhardt
Commissioner of Agriculture