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Free Wi-fi in the Allegheny Mountains

Allegheny Mountains. Photo by  Nicholas A. Tonelli via flickr.
Allegheny Mountains. Photo by Nicholas A. Tonelli via flickr.

Last week, Emily Sheketoff, executive director of the American Library Association (ALA) Washington Office, Cathleen Bourdon associate executive director of ALA Communication and Member Relations, and I (staff lackey) took a road trip to the Snowshoe resort in West Virginia to speak at the West Virginia Library Association Conference. The five-hour drive from D.C. to Snowshoe, W.V., was a pastoral treat, with fall leaves at their peak in the Allegheny Mountains.

There was a gas station in Warrensville where a gallon was only $3.09! The folksy diner there served a grilled cheese sandwich for $2.50. We saw a lot of cows (which is a big deal for folks who live in cities and rarely leave their offices). Emily’s theory that pending rainfall could be determined by whether a cow was standing or laying down on the ground proved to be inconclusive.

Once we got to Snowshoe, we experienced firsthand the difficulties a rural state like West Virginia have with access to broadband. We were assured prior to the trip that Wi-Fi was free, but upon arrival learned that that meant free at the Starbucks (which closes at 4pm). AT&T and T-Mobile were the only cellular networks supported. Because of the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope and potential interference with its operation, a large swath of land surrounding the area requires that all radio transmissions be severely limited. Check out the West Virginia Broadband map to see for yourself. Library-wise, over 65 percent of West Virginia libraries still require increased broadband based on the Digital Inclusion Survey.

For those of us suffering digital overload, this might not seem too bad. Cheap gas, low cost grilled cheese sandwiches, and beautiful mountains sound great, so who needs broadband? Everyone. In today’s connected world, how can people succeed without broadband?

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Carrie Russell

Carrie Russell is the director of the Program on Public Access to Information in the Washington Office. Her portfolio includes copyright, international copyright, accessibility, e-books, and other public policy issues. She has an MLIS from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and an MA in media arts from the University of Arizona.


  1. Deb Lawley Deb Lawley

    I’m not clear on your point. Are you suggesting that we should tear down the Robert C Byrd Green Bank Telescope or render it unusable, and trash all the future scientific data from it so that we can install broadband in that area? I agree that broadband is important and that it should be considered as important in this century as basic telephone service was the last century. But not at the cost of scientific advancement. The Radio telescope is not the “big bad” in the lack of broadband across rural America and I think it is irresponsible of you to link the two in your post.

  2. Carrie Russell Carrie Russell

    Hi Deb:
    I am not suggesting that we tear down the Robert C Byrd Green telescope. I was sad to hear from employees there that funds have been cut. A number of folks were laid off.

    I really wasn’t trying to say anything specific – just there can be lots of barriers to getting broadband.
    sometimes it is not just a funding or technology problem, but a choice local communities have to make.

    It would be nice if people did not have to choose. i think the residents of the area who want broadband travel elsewhere in the state to get it. This would be a burden for some people. On the other hand, the people I met who live in the area love being “cut off” from all of the Internet stuff.

  3. Joan Ress Reeves Joan Ress Reeves

    Emily is absolutely right. When a group of cows is standing, the weather will be good. If they’re lying down, it will rain. I know these things.

  4. Good to know. I’ll have to look for this cow pattern the next time I’m in a rural area.

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