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Internet access a big barrier to overcome

For more than a month now, I’ve been adjusting to being a “stay at home” reporter. Like many others having to work from home in order to slow and stop the spread of COVID-19, I’ve had to figure out the best way to keep working. The experience has certainly had its ups and downs so far.

For one thing, the commute is much shorter since I really only have to travel to the kitchen for breakfast and then back to my room to start working. But I’ve never minded the drive, and I do miss being able to spend some time listening to my favorite music every day. I also strangely miss checking the progress on the overpass construction across Highway 11. I wonder if they’ll be finished before the next time I drive to Ahoskie.

Not being in the office and interacting face-to-face with people also means I can wear whatever I want most days. It’s nice to pull out the sweatpants and shorts and old t-shirts that I love but never have the opportunity to wear much anymore. And honestly, I haven’t put on makeup in over a month. I’ve never liked makeup anyway, so this is truly the best part of working from home.

But there are downsides too, of course. I can still do my work by phone and by email and by attending meetings electronically. But I miss being able to talk to people face to face. I miss being able to see people’s facial expressions or respond by a simple nod to let them know I’m still listening. I miss seeing all the people who come into the office to buy a paper or drop off some church or community news. And I definitely miss my coworkers and our conversations over lunch.

Lunch! Another adjustment to make. I’m no longer a short four or five minute drive away from a bunch of good restaurants in Ahoskie to grab food from when I don’t feel like eating leftovers. But on the plus side, I’m much closer to the Embassy Café in Jackson now, and they’re still offering takeout plates!

Productivity is another hurdle to clear when working from home. It’s a weird shift in perspective to have to blend home and work together. It sometimes feels like there’s never an off switch for work. Having to figure out boundaries and forcing myself to follow a routine has been a struggle at times but I think I might be getting the hang of it.

The biggest challenge, however, has been the internet connection. Like many others in our rural part of the state, there’s no internet service provided where I live. For years I’ve had to rely solely on mobile data and hotspots through my smart phone. I’m grateful that service has improved a lot over the past few years that I can use the internet a lot more than I could when I first returned home from college eight years ago. But the service is still reliant on whether or not I have a good cell phone signal, and I still have to be mindful to make sure I have enough data to last the whole month.

I think it’s time we start accepting the fact that internet access is not just a luxury entertainment utility like TV, but a basic tool we use so much in our day-to-day lives. How would anyone working from home be able to accomplish anything without it? How would we be able to continue providing education to children without it? The way the world has become in the last decade, it’s almost a necessity.

I’m glad local businesses, organizations, and others have stepped up in order to provide internet access to people who don’t have it. School systems have worked to disperse hotspots for their students. The libraries have wi-fi you can access from the safety of your car in the parking lot. And even Roanoke Electric has continued its goal to provide access to the community, both through hotspots and their “Roanoke Connect” program that’s still underway.

I’m grateful I’m lucky enough to have a job that’s relatively easy to continue to do from home. Unemployment numbers are already looking bad because of this crisis. Just imagine how much worse it would be if working from home wasn’t an option for anyone.

Please continue to advocate for rural internet access. It would benefit everyone.

Holly Taylor is a Staff Writer at Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at holly.taylor@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7206.