MARIETTA — If you don’t get cell phone service or reliable Internet at your home then you aren’t the only one in Southeast Ohio.
According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), more than 14 million people in the U.S. still lack access to affordable, high-speed Internet service.
“When I need to do my homework, sometimes I’ll read things my teachers post while I’m at cross-country practice because I know when I get home I won’t have good enough Internet service to open it there,” said Federal Hocking High School sophomore Herron Linscott, 14.
Linscott along with several other concerned residents around the area are invited to attend the Appalachian Ohio-West Virginia Connectivity Summit and Town Hall on Tuesday with FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn to address the problems they face without Internet connectivity.
“We found that there are terrible percentage rates for broadband in Appalachian Ohio,” said Liz Shaw, chairwoman for Citizens Connectivity Committee. “We’ve been speaking with people that are totally isolated and not only is that a danger for public safety but it is also hurting the students in the area that can’t do their homework at home because they need Internet to do it.”
According to Shaw, Clyburn is doing a national tour called “Connecting Communities: Bridging the Communications and Opportunities Divide” to reach out to parts of the country that lack broadband access.
The Citizens Connectivity Committee reached out to the FCC to get Clyburn to make a stop at Washington State Community College to hear challenges that residents in the area face because of poor connectivity, unaffordable Internet rates or no Internet being available at all.
“Our students here are really behind others because they can’t do homework that they have to do online,” said Shaw. “We’ve heard stories about parents loading their children into the car to sit outside of a fast-food restaurant or the library finishing homework in the car just because that’s where they get Internet.”
“Entrepreneurs — which are very big in our area — aren’t able to do sales reports at home because there isn’t Internet access,” said Shaw. “Our Facebook shares a lot of stories about the challenges people are facing without something that should be considered a public utility. We started as a group of friends talking about the problems we were having and realized that everyone deals with this problem or knows somebody that does.”
One struggle Marietta has, according to Lenny Eliason, member of the Citizens Connectivity Committee, is that businesses that want to come to the area hesitate without reliable Internet being available.
“This is our chance to tell the FCC directly about the access, cost and reliability issues we are facing here,” he said. “We get complaints regularly. We hear from businesses of all sizes that there isn’t good Internet access in the area. Hopefully this will inspire the federal government to work on the broadband issues and making sure there is access for everyone.”
There are 224 broadband providers in Ohio but there are 1 million people in Ohio that have access to only one wired provider, leaving them no options to switch, according to Broadband Now. Another 262,000 people in Ohio don’t have any wired Internet providers available where they live.
“We want to equip, empower and educate our residents about the solutions and work harder toward the solutions that work,” said Shaw. “Too many people have settled for less when they could be getting the best. I hope Commissioner Clyburn will take all the stories and information we share back to Washington, D.C. to help us improve in this area and across the river.”
The event begins with a conference at Washington State Community College for local, state federal officials and their representatives, administrators of area development agencies, representatives from education, business leaders and others concerned about connectivity issues. Anyone can attend the conference but must register by searching Appalachian Ohio-West Virginia Connectivity Summit on eventbrite.com.
The informal town hall will begin at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the auditorium of Marietta High School. This event is open to the public without registration. There will be speakers sharing their stories for the FCC and comment cards will be handed out that will be filed with the FCC after open discussion.
If anyone wishes to share in advance of the event, organizers can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 740-274-1146.