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Representative must take lack of broadband seriously

I have lived in Washington County my entire life, and over the years, I have seen technological advancements as something that happened in places where I traveled. Then, I noticed that a few years after everyone in urban areas had access to the technology advantages, they would slowly emerge in rural areas similar to ours.

Still today, many people in our area still do not have access to internet with speeds comparable to those in urban areas. Seemingly, reaching that goal is not going to happen in the near future. I am an independent provider who works through the state with adults with disabilities. The lack of internet accessibility has not only made my job harder to access databases for billing and other tasks for my clients, but it has greatly limited important opportunities for my friends and clients.

The inability to access the internet could also put my clients in a great amount of danger. How, you might ask? One of my clients lives in a rural area where there is a lack of cell phone service; therefore, she and her family are forced to rely heavily on the extremely slow internet (which is the only option available to them) for messaging the outside world and for “wifi calling.” Relying so heavily on the wifi calling could create major issues in a medical emergency because even on sunny days, the wifi stops working.

After years of battling issues with landlines and their continuously rising costs, the landline is no longer a viable option for this client and her family. They must risk relying solely on spotty wifi. In addition, my client will begin post-secondary education this fall in hopes to better herself by pursuing a career. One day she would like to be able to work from home as that would be the most comfortable option for her, but the field she has chosen to study will be solely available online. As her provider, I will have to make accommodations for her to find reliable wifi for her to do her homework. And in the future if she cannot access reliable internet connection, she will not have the option to work from her home.

On July 18, 2017, residents of Washington County and surrounding areas had an amazing opportunity to have our voices heard by those in Washington, D.C., when FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn came to us with open ears. She heard many citizens’ concerns, and subsequently, she shared our stories with those who govern communications in Washington, D.C. My story was brought up in several interviews Clyburn had after these public discussions, and it was used to show the diversity of issues people in the Mid-Ohio Valley are facing without access to reliable internet connectivity.

Representative Bill Johnson, our elected congressional representative, was invited to this event but opted to send a staffer in his place; however, when Commissioner Clyburn issued her report on her trip to our area at an FCC hearing (which was broadcasted on C-SPAN), Johnson, who was in attendance, said he was unaware of the event and would have liked to have been included. Organizers of the non-partisan connectivity summit did, indeed, contact Representative Johnson’s office on more than one occasion with an invitation and reminder about the event.

I am upset Johnson missed this opportunity. His constituents are taking note of his lack of interest when it comes to our issues, like connectivity and access to the internet. Our representatives need to know the struggles of living in rural communities without reliable broadband coverage.

Lack of broadband coverage can mean a matter of life or death in emergency situations, as well as limit economic growth and make it very difficult to pursue educational opportunities, as well.

Cory Sampson

Lowell

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