Limited rural broadband is about people, too

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agritourism no wifi connection
Visitors wait outside the bread house for a slice of freshly baked bread at the Algonquin Mill Fall Festival, in Caroll County, Ohio, Oct. 12. The festival, while beloved and popular, still struggles with internet service and cell reception, making it difficult for vendors to scan credit cards. (Rebecca Miller photo)

Talk about living the things you write about. Just days after publishing the first story in our rural broadband series, I visited the Algonquin Mill Fall Festival, in Carroll County, Ohio.

There is limited to no cell service in the area. And internet? Not great. One after another, vendors asked for cash or check. The ones who took credit cards, either scanned to run later or wrote information down. Now, the festival is popular. Over and over again, I heard visitors talk about how it’s been a long-time tradition to come, buy homemade sauerkraut, get an apple dumpling or a slice of freshly baked bread.

Access issues

But it struck me. One of the things I’ve come to expect at festivals and craft fairs these days is that a lack of cash isn’t an impediment. Not great for me; great for the vendors though. Everyone was good-natured about it. There is affection for the festival. It is, after all, hearkening back to a time that didn’t have either phone or internet at all. Some of the vendors didn’t take anything other than cash or check anyway.

In fact, since we weren’t sitting on our phones, looking at cat memes, we talked more with each other. As we ate our massive chicken dinners at the picnic tables, we chatted with our neighbors, reminisced about our favorite foods and memories from past festivals.

I know those involved with the mill have been working to find solutions for the internet conundrum, in particular. It’s been a work in progress.

This week, we’re talking about how limited broadband affects businesses and professionals. Answer: it does. A lot. As this story has gotten out and more people have read it, we’ve gotten a lot of feedback, on various social media, through emails and in-person stories. Everyone has a story. That’s what I hope we keep sight of in this discussion. It’s about the people.

Past the numbers

Sarah, the reporter who worked hard on this series, spent time pulling together numbers. Hard data to give perspective. No surprise, increased broadband access impacts economies, both nationally and regionally.

But did you know that if people with certain types of jobs worked from home just 50% of the time, it could save $700 billion annually? That’s a huge number. It includes time spent in traffic and gas and other expenses a company has in housing employees. But what I see in that number is the potential for more time with family and the people you love and more connection with the community where you live.

Increasing tele-work options could open opportunities for 17.5 million people. That includes homemakers, retirees and adults with disabilities. That’s another big number. But what I see in that is the potential for increased connections with those around you, increased purpose in what you do and stronger community.

About the people

Internet is always going to be a dilemma. It’s very useful as a tool. But when it overwhelms the everyday, that’s when it becomes an issue. I hope it never supplants our humanness. Our need to connect, personally, with others around us.

It’s something I’ve tried to keep sight of throughout my career. Whether it’s a story about a court case, a school budget debate or women learning to read in a remote Sudanese village, it’s about people. The same is true of this story — and that’s why I hope to see solutions, whatever they may be.

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Click to read more from the 3-part series.

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Farm and Dairy Editor-in-Chief Rebecca Miller was tapped to lead the newsroom in 2019. A veteran journalist, dog wrangler and traveler, she lives on a 220-acre, 325-ewe commercial sheep farm in Lisbon, Ohio, which she runs in partnership with her mother. She can be reached at 330-817-6179 or editor@farmanddairy.com.

1 COMMENT

  1. As a member of the Carroll County Historical Society, I appreciate your article. We have sketchy Wi-Fi at the Algonquin Mill at best. Our volunteers have installed routers and tried many things to provide better cell phone and Wi-Fi service but it boils down to inadequate service from the provider.

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