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EDITORIAL — Broadband has become a necessity

One effect of the pandemic has been to separate communities into the “haves” and the “have nots” in terms of broadband access.

Families who used to be able to work around not having great internet access or sufficient data speeds, suddenly find themselves constricted when trying to stream Zoom calls or download lesson materials, while also working from home.

Broadband access is suddenly a big deal.

For many industries, the pandemic has proven we can work anywhere. After the pandemic, that fact isn’t going to suddenly go away. Why would workers in Washington, D.C., who have been successfully working from home for six months begin the daily two-hour grind through traffic every morning and evening? The realization that we can work wherever we want leads to the fact that we can live wherever we want. Or at least wherever good internet access is available.

Instead of young professionals in Farmville quickly packing up and leaving after graduating from Longwood or Hampden-Sydney, we could begin to see those professionals stick around and begin working remotely from our area, if we make the town attractive enough for them to stay. That means increasing the amount of available housing, recreational activities and other amenities young professionals look for in a place to live and work.

Our area is close enough to Richmond, Charlottesville and Lynchburg for professionals to make periodic commutes but base themselves here where taxes are low and housing costs are not exorbitant.

Just down the road, Appomattox was listed by PC Magazine this past May as one of America’s most affordable small towns in the country with fast internet for remote workers. That is the type of designation Farmville should work toward. As a small town with a strong college environment, we have all the ingredients to become a rural haven for remote workers.

The pandemic has shown us that rural living has its advantages. But the strong link of a solid broadband internet service has to be there. It was just a few weeks ago that a cut internet cable meant most of Farmville’s downtown was without internet service for an entire business day. We can’t have those lost days. These days, without the internet, business just doesn’t happen. The service is as important as electrical service and has to be reliable.

So how do we improve broadband access? Municipalities have to stop waiting on the business community to solve the problem and begin making this a top priority. Public-private partnerships and taking advantage of government grants are a good beginning. Providing free Wi-Fi service in the downtown and residential areas as a service of the town is something that should be considered.

To be successful in this century, towns have to become wired for broadband. We are going to have to get to work before we get left behind.

(The views in this editorial are of The Farmville Herald editorial staff. This editorial was written by Editor Roger Watson. He can be reached at Editor@FarmvilleHerald.com or (434) 808-0622.)