Op-Ed: Rural Homes Like Mine Could Soon Get High-Speed Internet Thanks to Biden Administration

Graphic by Francesca Daly, Photograph courtesy of Sally Weldon

By Sally Weldon

July 6, 2023

“If I’m checking a bank account or sending an email, my husband can’t look up a dinner recipe or read the news,” Weaverville resident Sally Weldon writes in an op-ed. “But the Biden administration’s historic funding for broadband expansion ensures that high-speed, reliable internet may be just around the corner.”

With Biden administration officials touring the country touting recent investments, here in rural North Carolina, we are feeling the impacts of his agenda. For years we have lacked high-speed internet, and I had made the decision to pay $500 to sign up for a satellite internet waitlist. 

But before I could, the Biden Administration announced new federal broadband expansion investments for my rural community. Now, I’m hopeful to finally connect to 21st-century infrastructure.

I moved to Weaverville, North Carolina in 2004 for love. After living in Texas my whole life, I moved in with my husband to his hometown tucked in the Blue Ridge mountains.

The first time I saw our house, I fell in love with it. My husband built it all on his own, adding to its unique charm. The one-lane road that leads to our home is surrounded by beautiful forests. This time of year is truly breathtaking with locust and maple tree leaves painting a canopy of fall colors. Life out here is relaxed, away from the hustle and bustle of larger cities and towns.

It’s almost perfect…but we don’t have access to reliable internet. On its face, this may not seem like a big issue. But the pandemic revealed just how bad the ‘digital divide’ is in rural America. As more people relied on the Internet for everything from telehealth appointments to virtual classes, rural Americans lacked the same access. Through no fault of their own, our students, businesses, and healthcare suffered simply due to our zip code.

As an IT professional, my work requires larger bandwidths to do even the most basic of tasks. During the pandemic, I had to work from home but found the internet speeds too spotty to work efficiently. I attended Zoom meetings either through my landline or without video turned on. When my granddaughter visited us, she couldn’t attend virtual classes unless my work computer was disconnected from the internet. We had to share online time, which meant both my work and her learning suffered.

RELATED: North Carolina Gets $1.5 Billion for High-Speed Internet Expansion From Biden’s Infrastructure Law 

A two-person household in an urban area enjoys an average 200 megabits per second (Mbps), which allows for basic streaming, Zoom calls, and email correspondence. For my two-person family in rural America, our internet plan gets us around .5 – .9 Mbps. This means we are essentially accessing the rest of the world roughly 200 to 400 times slower.

We only have enough bandwidth to use one device at a time. That means if I’m checking a bank account or sending an email, my husband can’t look up a dinner recipe or read the news. Streaming videos is impossibly slow, and we often give up watching TV shows midway through after experiencing long interruptions for loading.

Most people don’t know how important reliable internet service is until they don’t have it. Without the Internet, rural small business owners can’t utilize the newest technology, struggle to tap into new markets or advertise their services. As our economies suffer, young people leave for better opportunities in the city, further contributing to a “brain drain” and worsening economic outcomes.

For too long, internet companies have refused to invest in servicing rural areas due to the low density of users. Unfortunately, satellite services carry steep prices that many of us cannot afford, leaving rural Americans with three options: live without access to the internet, pay for spotty, poor service, or leave their communities.

For many Americans in rural areas, picking up and moving is simply not an option. Many people live in rural areas out of necessity, as the cost of living is far cheaper than in urban areas. And folks like my husband and I – who’ve lived here for decades – are invested both financially and emotionally into seeing our communities thrive.

But the Biden administration’s historic funding for broadband expansion ensures that high-speed, reliable internet may be just around the corner. With $6 million in funds allocated to my county, broadband expansion projects are already underway. Recently, the administration announced a further $1.5 billion from the infrastructure law to fund broadband expansion efforts all over North Carolina ensuring future generations will have access to high-speed internet – no matter where they live.

We are fortunate, we live in a beautiful place and have built a wonderful life in our rural community. We don’t want to move just for better internet service. Access to the internet shouldn’t depend on your zip code, especially when so much of our lives are lived online. With the Biden Administration’s prioritization of expanding internet connectivity to rural communities, I’m hopeful that my community may finally enter the 21st century.

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