AdventHealth Palm Coast Clinical Informatics Educator Katherine Biancaniello and her family moved to Palm Coast 15 years ago, and five years ago were able to purchase their dream fixer upper off County Road 304. With plenty of land and space to grow their family, it was perfect except for one hurdle that’s affecting more than just them – lack of reliable broadband internet. Now, she’s leading the charge to change it.
What inspired you to start the group and the petition drive?
I started this movement at first to help two of the most important things to me, my children, but in doing so it really opened my eyes to how great this need actually is for many families in our community. When the decision between brick and mortar and virtual schooling had to be made, our choice was virtual. That being said, additional stressors came with this choice due to our lack of internet access. This has always been an issue for the families in our area but COVID-19 really highlighted the emergent need. When I started the Facebook group “Bring Broadband Internet to CR 304,” it was more to meet my local County Road 304 neighbors and assess how many of us were in the same boat. What I never imagined is that the group continued to grow with members from nearby areas also affected and wanting to help and join in the cause. The group is now so much more than one road, it is about bringing high-speed internet service to all of the under-serviced citizens of western Flagler County. We currently have 161 members and growing daily. I have put out petitions at A & S Hardware, Bull Creek Fish Camp, Cody’s Corner, the Mobil on the corner of U.S. 1 and CR 304 and Harris Grocery in Bunnell. The hope of the petition is to provide tangible proof to Flagler County that this is not a small issue and this can no longer be ignored, especially during this time.
What has been the response from neighbors and businesses you’ve asked to help get the word out?
The response from neighbors and local businesses has been great. In driving around and passing out petitions I was able to meet neighbors and store owners and really get to know them on a first name basis. I have enjoyed getting to know more of our community in this process. This is a huge issue, not only for our local families but also for our local businesses. Imagine having to turn customers away due to inclement weather because your credit card machines or digital gas pumps are offline because of unreliable satellite internet. This is something that Jay, the owner of the Mobil on CR 304 and U.S. 1, has to deal with frequently. In the year 2020 this is not acceptable. He can see the lines that would provide him the reliable service he needs to run his business right across the street. When placing these petitions in strategic locations I may have had a second agenda as well. My hope is that it may also encourage patronage to local business that may be struggling from the impacts of COVID-19.
How does the lack of consistent broadband internet access affect your quality of life and that of your neighbors and surrounding businesses?
I think that those that have always had access to internet may take for granted how big of a role high speed internet really does play. Simple things like sending an email, researching for a paper, printing a document, downloading an image, homework, running a business, streaming a movie, attending a telehealth visit or conference call, and participating in virtual schooling all rely on a consistent, high-speed connection.
Some of the stories I have heard from members have been heartbreaking. The one that sticks most clearly in my mind was from a mother, Patrice Paterno-Lewis, who paid over $100 just to turn on satellite internet for the five days leading up to when her daughter had to take her final nursing exam from home. The internet was so slow and unreliable that the proctored test timed out halfway through and her daughter failed her last semester of nursing school. The three semesters leading up to the exam her daughter had to drive over 30 minutes each way to the library to complete school work and tests or spend 10+ hour days on campus, staying after classes to complete her homework. the lack of access is affecting our children’s current and future options.
I have read studies where the high school and college graduation and attendance rates are significantly lower in areas with lack of high-speed internet access. This is not something that anyone should want for the children in their community.
Have you spoken to any public officials, and if so, what has been the response?
I have spoken to members of the Flagler County School Board and reached out to the County Commissioners. If I was fortunate enough to receive a response they were all generally the same, they say they know that this is a huge issue but unfortunately there is no quick fix. It does not feel like this is being looked at as a priority as it should be. Lack of access has caused huge educational disparities in our community and should have been addressed much sooner and most definitely been made a top priority when we went to crisis learning from home last March. In lengthy conversations with members of the School Board I have been assured that they have learned much from crisis learning last spring and are continuing to be as innovative as possible to try and provide the best solution that they can to those involved. They are really trying to close this gap. I look at this as a band-aid to a massive injury that can only hold for so long. And here we are with another school year starting and it feels as if our children will continue to be guinea pigs for what worked and what didn’t work as far as technology at the expense of their education. I want our message to be clear: Something has to change. We are not going away. We are only growing stronger each day. Our children are too important to give up!
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