Editorial: No longer an amenity

Published 12:00 am Sunday, November 8, 2020

At an undetermined point in the future, when they leave the Rowan County Administration Building for the last time, incumbent commissioners will reflect on any number of important votes and accomplishments, but one of their most important actions to date has been work to bring better internet access to rural Rowan County.

County commissioners along with staff have worked with Open Broadband to bring better internet access to areas where folks face challenges with getting good internet access on computers as well as cellphone service. One of Open Broadband’s first acts has been to add a fixed wireless hub to the top of a tower at the Stanly County Airport that will broadcast to folks in southeastern Rowan.

To date, as southeast Rowan resident W. Lee Simmons told reporter Ben Stansell, parents often need to drive elsewhere to find a spot with Wi-Fi their kids can use to complete school assignments.

Sure, there’s satellite internet, but people want something more reliable, Simmons said.

The type of service provided by Open Broadband is different than most internet providers. It transmits the service via radio signals to a customer’s home rather than requiring miles and miles of cable in the ground, making it a more cost-effective option. The internet expansion is made possible by CARES Act funding received by county government, which must be spent by the end of the year, and will also include a project in the northwestern area of Rowan County — the Scotch Irish township.

Work from the Rowan County Broadband Task Force shows there are still areas of need for faster internet access.

If another node installed to serve the northwestern area of Rowan does not help areas still in need, commissioners should continue looking for ways to incentivize companies to improve access elsewhere.

Naturally, living in “the country” means doing without some amenities, but internet access has increasingly become a necessity, particularly for families with public school children.

People in  elected positions will differ about the best methods to ensure fast internet is accessible for everyone, but there’s shouldn’t be a debate that access to reliable fast internet should be as prevalent as electricity.

The internet is a utility, not an amenity.