Raise your hand if you remember dial-up Internet access.  For those of us who got online early in the game before broadband was affordable and readily available, you’ll remember it well.  Dialing up (waaah, dee do dee do dee, hissss), and then going to get a cup of coffee while waiting for pages to load.  Forget doing anything fancy, like watching videos or even viewing pages with a lot of photos.  Thank goodness social networking sites like Facebook and YouTube weren’t around back then – almost nobody would have been able to use them.

If you have broadband (cable, DSL, etc.) Internet access at work or home, I bet you take it for granted.  Broadband is available everywhere in the U.S. these days, right?

Wrong.  Broadband Internet access is still lacking in many rural parts of the United States, even right here in Pennsylvania.  Even in places you’d expect it to be.

For example, consider the case of a Beaver County nonprofit called the Independence Conservancy.  Victoria Michaels, executive director of this all-volunteer organization, works from her home office located about 6 miles from downtown Beaver.  She spent many years using dial-up, half-jokingly referring to it as her “tin-can-on-a-string” Internet access.  She has spoken to all of the neighbors who live on her road – everyone wants and is willing to pay for broadband access.  Unfortunately, no company will run the line down their road, Verizon, Comcast or otherwise.  She and a few neighbors have recently settled for obtaining a satellite dish for access, but she says it is almost as slow as the dial-up.  She still cannot view videos and multimedia or participate easily on social media sites.

Vicky Michaels goofing on her "Tin-Can-on-a-String" Internet access.

Vicky Michaels goofing on her "Tin-Can-on-a-String" Internet access.

Here are some considerations for nonprofits serving rural populations:

  1. Is your website usable for all constituents in your target audience?  Have you optimized it so that people with dial-up and slower Internet access can easily view it?  Or, is it attractive (lots of pics and interactivity) but takes forever to load.  If you serve rural populations, consider the implications involved.  You cannot assume everyone can access your site or that they can access all components of your site.
  2. Social media still excludes many people in rural areas because they do not have enough bandwidth to get the various tools like Facebook or YouTube to operate efficiently (if at all).
  3. Emails with large file attachments (PDF newsletters, photos, etc.) can be nearly impossible for people with dial-up to download.

Until broadband has truly become available everywhere, your organization will need to consider its rural constituents and continue to provide alternative ways for those people to access your agency’s information and to participate.

For statistics on Internet access in rural Pennsylvania, check out this fact sheet from the Center for Rural Pennsylvania: http://www.ruralpa.org/Internet_connectivity.pdf.

Here’s some good news on this front – vice president Biden recently announced rural PA broadband funding:  http://www.breitbart.com/article.php?id=D995S27O0&show_article=1&catnum=0.

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