By Kristie Helmick Proctor
Access to the Internet is an integral part of life in the 21st century. It is difficult – and almost impossible – to imagine life without it. Yet countless Americans see their lack of high-speed internet as a major problem, and many rural Virginians, like me, live with little or no access to this resource.
There is immense work to be done, and at the Virginia Rural Center, we are working to expand rural broadband access as bridging the digital divide would change the lives of many Virginians. The simple things that others take for granted are not an option for many people in the Commonwealth.
For example, rural Virginians never had a choice when it came to educating our children during the pandemic – “virtual school” was simply not an option. It was not easy for rural Virginians without reliable connections to video chat with a friend from a distance, or to keep up to date by reading the news online. In addition to these simple pleasures, we miss out on career and educational opportunities, telehealth resources, and more because we have no reliable connection, or in some cases none, with the outside world.
In order to thrive today, rural Virginians need extensive broadband access, and we have no chance of competing without it.
These problems have only been exacerbated by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Parts of everyday life that took place face to face have been altered by technology that enables virtual connections, such as remote working and education. The convenience of doing these things from the comfort of home, as has been the case during extended quarantine periods, has made it unlikely that we will ever deviate from these technology-dependent solutions.