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Lack of rural internet access still a reality; Farmers, teachers say not enough progress has been made

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ELEVA (WQOW) -- The Internet is slated to go further into outer space soon as NASA announced a partnership with Nokia to bring cell towers to the surface of the moon while the FFC reports that nearly 19 million Americans still lack access to fixed broadband service.

"I remember my grandparents telling me stories about electrifying the United States with the rural electrification administration. We probably need to go back to that era and look at the internet as being that important," Ed Gorell said.

For Eleva resident Ed Gorell, bringing the internet to rural America can be compared to electrifying all of America in the 1930s.

As a member of the Wisconsin Farmers Union, Gorell helps lobby lawmakers on the issues that impact him and his fellow farmers and internet access has been a major topic of discussion for many years.

"[Not having internet] is just a complete social and economic disadvantage for Wisconsin rural residents to try and do business, do school," Gorell said.

Just over an hour away from Gorell's farm is Owen-Withee High School. A rural school that business education teacher Julie Kodl says is proof of that disadvantage.

"We just did a survey and 40 out of 250 students in our high school that do not have any internet access at all," Kodl said.

The pandemic has highlighted the issue as the school now has one virtual day per week.

"If they do have the internet, even connecting more than one child at home has been an issue. So, that gets a little tricky. So it's more maybe sending things home on Friday rather than connecting," she explained.

If students at the school need to quarantine for two weeks after potential COVID-19 exposures, Kodl says they are likely to fall behind or miss important information.

"This area really doesn't have good internet connectivity at all. Even the cell phone connection is bad here. We've tried things like hot spots and getting internet to students. But if they don't have cell service, there is honestly no internet service," she said.

What is causing this lack of service? For Gorell, it is large investor-owned providers not needing to reach rural America.

"Their business is to return investments to an investor. It's not profitable to provide that service to distant residences and businesses," he said.

The issue, of course, is not a new one as our county, state and federal leaders have used the topic of rural broadband connectivity on the campaign trail in the past.

But both Kodl and Gorell feel not enough progress has been made.

"If we expect teachers, students, the world to find everything online and have access online, we really need to work in rural areas and get the internet access more accessible to everybody," Kodl said.

Gorell is hopeful a bipartisan agreement can be made to bring this issue to the forefront.

"After we get through this election process, we want to see our representatives take off their partisan hats and work together and solve this issue," he said.

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Stephanie Rodriguez

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