Rural Areas Still Waiting on Faster Internet


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PAGE COUNTY, Va. (WHSV) -- When you surf the Internet, chances are it's using a high-speed connection, but high-speed service is not an option for everyone in the Valley.

That lack of speed can impact schools, business and everyday living. Page County residents are waiting for faster Internet service to reach their underserved area. Ken Beyer is used to waiting for his Internet in Hope Mills, as he has been using dial-up service since 1992. He uses Shentel, because cables don't reach his street.

"I'm just stubborn," Beyer said. "I've been waiting for the Page County Broadband Authority."

Beyer collects firewood while pictures his granddaughter sends download.

"From Shentel, it takes anywhere from 15 to 23 minutes to download that onto this computer," said Beyer. "So you're stuffing that all through the telephone line or through the satellites, and about half of the photographs you get, you don't use."

He has researched other options, including the AT&T phone card.

"You have to weigh the difference. Are you willing to pay the 400 something dollars to go a little faster? Or are you willing to be patient?" said Beyer.

Alex Phillips, the CEO of High Speed Link in Harrisonburg, offers an alternative for neighbors who cannot use cable Internet.

"What we do is we use mountaintops, which is our strongest asset living here in the Valley, to microwave technology out as far as we can," Phillips said.

Dishes transmit Internet from a mountaintop to homes and businesses. Only about 20 of his customers in Page and Rockingham counties use dial-up.

"It's rural areas that really can't get it any other way. You're not going to build a fiber optic cable there; you're not going to build a giant tower," Phillips said. "There's just certain limitations to things you can and can't do."

About 2,000 homes and businesses throughout the Valley use dishes, but they are not without flaws. Margaret Stevenson, who now uses AT&T, said her dish stopped working all together.

"Sometimes it would be days or even a week at a time," she said.

In Shenandoah, some people who frequent Lucy's Cafe agree. The cafe is one of a handful of places in town that offers WiFi.

"There are individuals that still only have dial-up Internet at home, so it is more convenient for them to be able to come and have a faster Internet. And truthfully I prefer to come here and access the Internet over my home Internet, because it is faster here as well," said Marie Comer, the owner of Lucy's Cafe.

In Harrisonburg, there are a number of stores, such as Greenberry's, with WiFi; however, across the mountain in Page County, there simply are not as many options. Stevenson and Beyer both wouldn't mind being one of 6,300 households to get faster Internet. Originally, that's the number the Page County Broadband Authority proposed to connect through service providers.

"Since we're the last house on the road, they come back just so far, and then they don't come any further," said Stevenson.

Phillips said the authority could have reached more underserved areas.

"The downside from our perspective is that they didn't really build it into any areas that needed service. It's only areas that already had service," said Phillips.

There will soon be more options. Phillips is looking into using TV white space, which consists of old TV channels vacated during the national digital transition, which would allow High Speed Link to have a signal that could penetrate through trees.

Regardless of the company or type of Internet, the main thing for many is simply speed.

"I don't want to sit there and wait for four or five minutes to even get on the Internet. It's frustrating, [and] frustration I don't do well with," said Stevenson.

James Funkhouser, a manager with Shentel who also markets the Page County Broadband Authority, said it is the service providers' responsibilities to expand their networks to rural areas. They could do that through the authority or on their own.

He also said the authority does not directly serve households. The network serves Page Memorial Hospital, the Valley Health Stanley Clinic and Northwestern Community Services Board in Luray. Members of the authority said Page County was one of the first 4G Sprint markets launched in large part due to the use of this network.


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