Our country is comprised of a patchwork of cities and towns, villages and hamlets. Each one unique in its diversity of population and unique in its needs and wants to foster a thriving community. Regardless of size or location, connectivity is essential to building community. And for those Americans who live and work in the more rural parts of our country, connectivity is essential to the ability to work or learn remotely, connect with 9-1-1 quickly and accurately or receive critical medical care via telehealth services.
To understand the value of connectivity in rural America, we joined with RuralRise to hear directly from people who live and work in rural communities.
EH Chocolates – Kirby, West Virginia
Chef Eric Hott grew up on a 500-acre farm in Kirby, West Virginia. In 2003, he got an opportunity to study in Germany and Switzerland, eventually earning a culinary degree and developing a passion for Swiss chocolate.
When he returned to West Virginia in 2013, he was shocked to see DSL was still the fastest option on his property and in the surrounding area. Chef Hott returned home to his family and aging grandparents, concerned about his ability to make a living using his newly acquired skills without critical resources like broadband internet.
Chef Hott reached out to the community and eventually joined a group of scrappy independent business owners that contacted their members of Congress. Their communities, and others like theirs, were being left behind in a world that increasingly required access to high-speed internet service to offer products, goods and services outside their small community.
In the early days of the business, Chef Hott would post product updates on Facebook, customers would place an order by phone, then come to the farm to pick it up. After missing several customers while working around the farm, Chef put a sign at the front of the farmhouse that said, “If I’m not here, honk the horn!” so he could run back and get the orders. There was no other way to contact him while on property.
Today, with the help of high-speed broadband, Chef Hott leverages social media to advertise his products and run his business, including the sale of locally-sourced produce and beef, as well as those heavenly Swiss chocolates. He receives orders and payments, manages fulfillment and shipping, all online. He says half of his customers he’s “never even met” because they order online only.
Although Chef Hott’s business was mostly online before COVID, he credits the internet as truly saving his business as customers began expecting the ease of contactless order and delivery services.
And it’s not just about business, Chef Hott also lives on his farm. Recently he was able to text his dentist a picture of his tooth instead of driving 45 minutes to the dentist’s office to receive the same diagnosis.
Jessica Glendinning, Freelance Writer – Highland County, Virginia
Jessica Glendinning grew up in Highland County, Virginia – the smallest county by population east of the Mississippi – and left her hometown to attend James Madison University in 1998. Based on her writing and graphic design skills, Jessica launched her own business in 2010, which now provides content marketing strategies to social enterprise startups, small businesses, and other socially minded companies across the globe.
Before making the decision to move back to her hometown to Jessica’s family farm, she was skeptical of her ability to earn a living back home without high-speed internet. Both Jessica and her husband Ari, a water resources engineer, regularly need to send large graphic and schematic files to clients as part of their jobs. Before having high-speed connectivity to their home, they needed to download and send large files overnight, because that’s how long it took to get their electronic deliverables out the door. The couple also needed to schedule video client meetings at alternate times since only one person could be using that much bandwidth at once. And when it came to software updates for their devices? It could take forever.
When high-speed broadband finally made its way to Highland County, it was the final piece of the puzzle the couple needed to make the move.
Now, their high-speed broadband connection allows Jessica and Ari to thrive both personally and professionally. Aside from sending large files and hopping on video calls with ease, paying bills, which once required a trip to the mailbox almost a mile from the house, can now be done with the click of a button. And connecting with medical specialists, which often required a day trip, time off work and other travel expenses, can now be done virtually through telehealth appointments.
Now, Jessica and Ari can spend more time enjoying the beautiful place they call home and less time planning their day around a software update.