The pandemic has made clear what many rural folks have known and organized around for years: access to affordable broadband internet is a necessity for all. From online school and working from home to telehealth, folks without consistent access to high-speed internet are unable to access the resources, services, and education they need. The ROP network has made Broadband Internet for All one of our priorities in the Roadmap to a Thriving Rural Oregon and we’re experimenting with short and long-term solutions together!
Create a Community Internet Hotspot!
To help meet the immediate need, ROP has 12 hotspots with service for a year to distribute around the state to increase internet access and foster community connections. In November, we put out a call for groups to fill out a survey to let us know if they’re interested in receiving a mobile hotspot to use for creative community building that also increases internet access in this crucial moment. We’re extending the deadline to fill out the survey to January 8th, 2021!
Some of the innovative ways that groups have proposed to use a mobile hotspot so far include:
- Placing a hotspot in a mobile home park for students to use to connect to online schooling who don’t have reliable internet access
- Setting up a hotspot at a local church where immigrant families already come weekly to pick up food and other basic necessities. Without internet, phone data often runs out quickly and people can’t call home to check on their loved ones in the middle of this pandemic
- Putting a hotspot in the Grange Hall so community members can come and take care of the important daily tasks that are so often now online, including students who live too rurally to access internet can come and join their peers in online schooling rather than completing the paper packets
How could you and your group use a mobile hotspot? We’re interested in hearing how hotspot internet access could strengthen your local organizing and support your community! Let us know by filling out the survey here by January 8th! After the survey closes, ROP will review responses and distribute hotspots to 12 groups. If you see a need for a hotspot but want help creating a plan for how to impact the most people, we’d love to talk! Email us at Abbi@rop.org.
We’ve also been inspired by creative ways that rural communities across the state and country are expanding access to broadband internet in the midst of the pandemic.
Check out this case study from the Clatskanie Co-op about how folks came together to create an internet cooperative that is community-owned when independent service providers (ISPs) wouldn’t build internet infrastructure to outlying areas.The co-op keeps growing and now extends all the way to Svensen!
In rural Virginia, a school district built solar-powered units to power mobile hotspots they placed in parking lots to provide internet access for kids who didn’t have reliable internet at home. The Wireless on Wheels trailers are built using supplies available at most hardware stores and allow for internet access in locations without consistent power available.
As another longer-term solution to rural broadband access, solar-powered trailers in Sherman County are being used to fill internet dead zones and give internet access to students, teachers, and healthcare workers working from home. The funding for this program came from CARES act funding for broadband internet.
Governor Brown’s recent budget proposal for 2021-2023 includes $118 million in proposed increases for broadband funding in the state budget, funding that could mean serious expansion of internet access in rural communities. For that public funding to provide internet that is actually affordable and accessible to rural people, we’ll need to be prepared to work with our local governments to create contracts that make sure that broadband expansion is a public good and doesn’t just line the pockets of private companies. There are many more ways folks are organizing to help provide access to the internet during this difficult moment. If you have a story of how folks in your community are organizing to increase internet access that you’d like to share, email Abbi@rop.org.
As we fight for larger expansions, we’ll keep practicing creative solutions and pushing for the internet access our communities need!
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