If there is one thing the Virginia Department of Health Central Shenandoah District’s vaccine expansion rollout has exposed — other than a complete and utter misunderstanding of rural areas with spotty internet service — it is our wider community's need for broadband.
Oh, we’ve slapped this horse before.
Back when schools were in the middle of online learning and some county students were struggling with getting online, NASA announced it selected Nokia to build the first wireless network on the moon, hoping to connect the lunar surface by 2022. At first, we laughed at the absurdity of government spending.
Then we got mad. The moon, for all we know, might have internet before some of us in Rockingham County do. Yes, that’s a problem.
And with the VDH wanting people — most of whom are 65 and older — to register for Phase 1b of the COVID-19 vaccine via email, that problem should now shine bright. Thankfully, we have people around like Jeremy Holloway, chief of Rockingham County Fire and Rescue, who are going above and beyond what they’re called to do to make sure the aged population among us can call his staff who, in turn, will do all they can to steer those eligible for this phase of inoculation to the right place.
But it shouldn’t be fire and rescue’s job to do that. They have fires to put out. They have calls to respond to.
But back to broadband.
During the Governor’s Summit on Rural Prosperity in October, Gov. Ralph Northam said roughly 660,000 Virginians do not have access to broadband. Locally, that number is hard to gauge. But it doesn’t take a degree in computer science to know that stepping outside the city becomes a guessing game for high-speed internet. Frankly, it’s something we need now more than ever. Plenty of us are working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and some of us depend on virtual appointments with our various doctors.
Sure, students may soon be heading back to the classroom, but now we know that if they have to be sent out to learn from home again, it’s going to be a bear for most to keep up.
“This crisis, more than anything else in the last 20 years, has highlighted the broadband gap that left too many Americans, and too many Virginians behind,” Sen. Mark Warner said in an emailed statement to this newspaper on Tuesday.
Thankfully, broadband access has been a major issue for representatives running for election as of late. Sadly, we have yet to see the fruits of their election campaigns just yet.
We implore all our representatives — from those in Washington to the ones in Richmond — to continue to push for rural broadband.
If anything, the state’s shortsighted idea for COVID-19 vaccine registration should put the spurs to the issue.