Today’s Rappahannock News includes the last installment of a three-part series, “Rappahannock’s Digital Dilemma.” Underwritten by the nonprofit, nonpartisan Foothills Forum to explore a top concern of respondents to Foothills’ countywide survey last year — that being the lack of broadband and cell coverage here — we think the series, by reporter Randy Rieland, comprehensively illustrates the following:
• That any solution to our connectivity issues must reflect the unique needs and concerns of the Rappahannock County community;
• That the possible formation of a broadband committee by the board of supervisors, at the wise suggestion of County Administrator Debbie Keyser, would be the smartest first step toward engaging this daunting challenge of how to preserve the county’s essential rural, scenic character while adapting to change;
• And that we are all already connected — in ways far more substantial and meaningful than cellular and Wi-Fi signals can manage. All corners of the Rappahannock community, as the series’ straight-down-the-middle reporting has shown, are impacted by gaps in broadband and cellphone service. Not being able to connect — whether it’s a sheriff’s deputy in the field, EMTs transporting a heart-attack victim to the hospital, a job applicant online, a local business whose potential customers are primarily online, or a student doing his or her homework — is no longer a quaint quirk that distinguishes Rappahannock from its neighbors.
We want to maintain our county’s unique character and unspoiled vistas. And it’s for these reasons also that Rappahannock’s connectivity challenges can no longer be ignored. Having more universally available broadband and cellphone access in the county would allow economic development that doesn’t substantially alter our landscapes — from telecommuting to more productive, market-connected agriculture.
All of this said, we must be clear that whatever the ultimate “solution” is, Rappahannock taxpayers cannot and should not be expected to pick up a burdensome tab to fund new technological infrastructure. It’s not realistic — and it’s not necessary. As today’s concluding installment shows, grants and public-private partnerships are helping other rural communities find solutions. We need to embrace these possibilities.