The digital divide is severely hurting small rural communities. In the small town of Grove in upstate New York there is no high speed Internet access, cable TV, or cell phone service. The town relies on dial up and suffers because of it. However, just a few towns over in Alfred Station which has high speed access, businesses are using the Internet to flourish.
Rural communities are struggling and failing to keep pace economically without high speed access. Communities that are low in population or have lower average incomes are more likely to be without high speed access while they are the ones who need it the most. Larger communities across New York State have access giving people opportunities they just cannot get without the Internet. High speed Internet changes the way businesses are run, people communicate, how people receive healthcare, the list goes on and on.
Teleworking is just one way that people are taking advantage of high speed Internet access. In Alfred Station a man named Peter von Stackelberg telecommutes to a Washington, D.C. company from his home using wireless broadband. "I was literally around the planet in terms of who I was working with. And to do that 10 years ago would have been science fiction. And in some parts of Allegany County and the Southern Tier, it still is science fiction. But it doesn’t need to be."
Officials claim that private companies are hesitant to bring high speed access to certain rural communities because "they doubt they would recoup their investment in sparsely populated areas." However, the local Southern Tier West Regional Planning and Development Board is working hard to get high speed Internet. They have just received a state grant for $613,000 to help them do so.
In a June Speed Matters video, a farmer from Northern Vermont - Daniel Fontin - explained his family’s experiences with high speed Internet. Their access to broadband Internet has improved their ability to expand their business, their healthcare and their children’s education.
As the United States has dropped to 15th out 30 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries adopting broadband, it is good to see communities working hard to get it themselves but it is not enough. High speed Internet access should be a utility as it is as necessary for rural communities as water, electricity, and gas.