Commissioners: Lack of high-speed internet hurts rural residents

By OWEN WALSH
Posted 5/5/20

HONESDALE, PA — The Wayne County Commissioners say that the COVID-19 outbreak has illuminated how detrimental the area’s lack of broadband really is.

During their April 28 meeting, the …

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Commissioners: Lack of high-speed internet hurts rural residents

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HONESDALE, PA — The Wayne County Commissioners say that the COVID-19 outbreak has illuminated how detrimental the area’s lack of broadband really is.

During their April 28 meeting, the Wayne County Commissioners signed off on an agreement between the county, the commonwealth of PA and the state police to install a fiber optic line between the tower near the emergency operations center and the tower in Beach Lake. The contract calls for 2,100’ of conduit to connect the two towers. While this project is only designed to provide for better emergency communications, the commissioners called it a “step in the right direction” toward eventually distributing broadband to more rural parts of the county.

The number of residents lacking access to high-speed internet has been an issue in Wayne County for years. But over the past couple of months, the problem has been exacerbated by COVID-19, commissioners Joe Adams and Brian Smith said. Between students finishing their school year online, residents working from home, no door-to-door census workers, emergency management in low-service areas, unemployment applications and the rise in telemedicine, Adams called it “unrealistically uncompetitive” and “unconscionable” that so many are without internet access during this time.

He also said that the PA Department of Labor & Industry announced in January that it would be shutting down its phone line for accessing unemployment compensation, saying that applications could be done over the internet instead.

“Well, that’s great for people who have the internet,” Adams said. “But a third of our population doesn’t have the internet.”

The state’s solution for residents without online access was to use a computer at a public library. With libraries shut down because of the pandemic, that option is no longer available. Even prior to the pandemic, however, Adams said it was a less-than-ideal alternative.

“You go into a public computer, put in your name, address, social security number, bank account information and date of birth… the answer was no.”

Treasurer Brian Field said that it’s “a little alarming to think that [the Department of Labor & Industry] would have that mindset.”

Smith said that, when working with officials statewide, “there’s zero appreciation for the fact that we live in a rural area and not everyone has internet.” He added that the county has been looking for a company to bring broadband to Wayne, but that it has struggled to find any willing to make the investment. 

“I think our solution is going to have to come from within the county,” he said.

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