MARIETTA — Individuals and officials from around the region converged on Marietta on Tuesday for the Appalachian Ohio-West Virginia Connectivity Summit.
The event held at Marietta High School and Washington State Community College was planned to share the connectivity stories and concerns of the region, with Federal Communications Commission Commissioner Mignon Clyburn in attendance to address the crowd and hear the stories.
The event began with “a little grandmother who got throttled” explained Liz Shaw, a Meigs County resident who was that angry grandmother. Shaw explained that her internet provider lowered her speeds, leading her to research how they were allowed to do something like this.
As she researched she got angry, and also curious, looking at the laws, policies and geography of the region.
Shaw said she was not prepared to accept that things had to be the way they were and reached out to the organization Public Knowledge.
Shaw sent her story, along with the stories of others to Public Knowledge, which in turn sent the information on to Commissioner Clyburn. The Commissioner wanted to make the trip to the area to hear the stories of local residents.
Shaw said she was expecting the visit to take place later in the year, maybe around October, but that the date presented was July 18.
“I felt like the dog that caught the car,” said Shaw of getting the meeting set up so quickly.
The group of organizers went to work, contacting internationally known speakers on connectivity.
With the help of Public Knowledge and the Center for Rural Strategies, Shaw and others were able to out together a line up of speakers for the daytime event which was attended by Meigs County officials Commissioner Randy Smith, EMS Director Robbie Jacks and EMA Director Jamie Jones, as well as numerous other representatives from counties around the area. State officials and representatives from the offices of state and national officials were also in attendance.
The evening portion was designed as a town hall with some prepared speakers, as well as the opportunity for those in attendance to share their stories.
Clyburn addressed those in attendance at Marietta High School for the public town hall portion of the event, as well as taking notes of the connectivity stories shared.
“A few years back, the Washington Post introduced a great slogan: ‘If you don’t get it, you don’t get it.’ The idea was that if you didn’t get their publication, you had no idea what was going on in the world and in your community,” said Clybrun.
While that may be the case for some, it is not the case when it comes to broadband, explained Clyburn.
“I think the opposite can be said when it comes to broadband access — even if you don’t have it, you fully comprehend that you are at a clear disadvantage when it comes to being able to run your business, find a job, advance your education, access telehealth services, or simply pay your bills. Affordable, robust broadband, opens a world of opportunity to those who have it, but for those who don’t, they remain stuck in a digital canyon,” said Clyburn.
While Clyburn was there to hear the stories of the region, she was the first to admit that she did not have all the answers to the problems.
“Now I do not stand before you, pretending to have all the answers, but I am standing here this evening because I care, and am willing to work to come up with innovative solutions, to solve these persistent gaps when it comes to connectivity,” stated Clyburn.
Clyburn addressed three concerns in her opening remarks, including getting broadband into communities most in need, broadband affordability and broadband consumer protections.
She gave the FCC at B-plus for getting access to communities, a C for affordability and a F for protections.
“It is unacceptable to me that over 20 percent of rural Americans, do not have high speed broadband,” said Clyburn. “The FCC has initiated several proceedings over the past few months, that look at subsidizing fixed and mobile broadband in areas that are unserved today. We have also looked at making structural changes to our rules, so that it is easier and cheaper for companies that deploy this often-costly infrastructure to do so. And while I welcome these changes, I must caution that it will take time for you to see the real benefits in your backyard. That said, I am all for resolving these proceedings quickly and making sure that the communities without broadband, will not have to go without much longer.”
One solution to access noted by Clyburn, and discussed during the daytime portion of the event, was the potential for cooperatives for broadband service.
“I believe that where communities are not being adequately served by the private sector, they should be able to band together and deploy their own infrastructure. You provide your own electricity service here through a cooperative. Perhaps, like a growing number of cooperatives across the nation, a cooperative could also provide broadband,” said Clyburn.
Affordability is something that can keep broadband out of homes even if the service is available in the area.
“The power of broadband connectivity, is not worth much to your neighbor, if they cannot afford it,” said Clyburn.
“The fight for affordable and available communications services, requires all hands-on deck. We each need to make sure that one’s opportunity is not limited based on the family they were born into, or where they choose or are forced to live,”said Clyburn.
“I, for one, welcome hearing from you, consider your voices and opinions significant and view what you file as substantial. We are not doing our jobs as regulators, if we aren’t listening to you, we are not representing your interests if we fail to understand or consider what you are facing or what concerns you,” said Clyburn.
“I am here tonight in Marietta, Ohio because I am using my two ears and will now limit what else I say with my one mouth. My unwavering promise to you this evening, is that I will take what you say back to Washington, D.C., and ensure that your stories are told and that they are part of our public policy debate. I look forward to hearing from you tonight, and thank you for listening,” Clyburn concluded.
More on the stories shared during the public town hall will appear in the Friday editions of The Daily Sentinel, Point Pleasant Register and the Gallipolis Daily Tribune.