Rural Broadband in a Socially Distant World
Rural Broadband COVID-19
There is only one thing on people’s minds in the last couple of weeks, Covid-19. I believe it is prudent to look at other country’s responses as an indicator of what is in store for us here in the United States in the coming weeks and months.
One of the social distancing strategies that are work from home strategies is being widely touted, also known as telework. Not all professional industries are designed and able to take advantage of teleworking. But most office type work is suited for a telework experience.
600,000 Unconnected Virginians
The ability to telework is only as good as the broadband available to your home. I’ve written about the lack of robust broadband infrastructure in rural communities, and there are many advocates in our local community that are continuing the fight to make improvements.
Laura Loveday (Culpeper Grant Administrator) is still fighting the good fight by submitting arduous amounts of paperwork for the VATI Grant system. Something Culpeper was NOT granted in the latest round of funding.
Christopher Ali, Professor at UVA, is writing the book on the impact of the inadequacies of access to broadband in rural environments. I suggest you follow him on Twitter for updates on his forthcoming book.
There are still over 600,000 Virginians without access to broadband internet, according to the Commonwealth Connect. A number that has not changed since I initially reported on back in August 2019.
Schools in the region are already shutdown between 2-4 weeks. Employees are told to stay home. If your area doesn’t have broadband, how are you supposed to accomplish anything? If classroom teaching moves online, how are students supposed to access courses?
Telehealth is also becoming more critical as governing bodies are looking to expand it. NYU Langone Health has a Virtual Urgent Care service in use for this purpose. Potential patients are being told to stay home and contact a clinician remotely if they are experiencing flu-like symptoms.
Mobile hotspots using your phone may be the only pocketbook busting choice that you may have.
What are the ISPs doing?
Make no mistake; expanding the infrastructure is not on the horizon. There aren’t any emergency plans for internet connectivity in place for emergencies of this nature. It’s up to the ISPs and the FCC to make things more tenable.
Comcast is removing its data caps, opening up the Xfinity WIFI for free (note you have to be in public spaces to access). Comcast has also agreed that there are no disconnects or late fees for missed payments, and low-income families are eligible for a $9.95 essentials plan for 60 days.
Sprint and T-Mobile are increasing their data caps on their mobile plans. I have not seen information related to data caps for AT&T and Verizon Wireless mobile plans. All mobile carriers have agreed to honor waiving late fees and no disconnects with so many more people at home.
You should check with your mobile provider to see what options are available to you regarding payment and data plan caps.
Make the best of telework
If you have not experimented with telework in your company, I encourage you to start working on an implementation strategy today.
A friend of mine, Brittany Chiang, President of Flatter Inc., recently published a LinkedIn article on their approach to telework as a small business in the government contracting space. You can check out that article here: https://bit.ly/2QiDnI2
Maintain Patience with Remote Learning
If you are a parent with school-aged children, remain patient as the public-school systems are working to implement distance learning as the primary teaching delivery method. Administrators and teachers will need time to ramp up their capabilities to meet the demand and effectively communicate processes and procedures to the community at large.
Set a Positive Example in the Weeks Ahead
I can only offer words of encouragement as we go down a path I doubt any of us have experienced in our lifetimes. Be a leader in your home and in the community. When times feel overwhelming, take a deep breath, don’t panic, and be the voice of reason.
I found an unattributed quote that summed this up pretty well, “Young children are going to remember how their families felt during this Coronavirus panic, more than anything specific about the virus. Our kids are watching and learning about how to respond to stress and uncertainty. Let’s wire our kids with resilience, not panic.”
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