In 2016, a thousand-year downpour in West Virginia resulted in deadly floods.
“It was devastating,” said Julia Morgan, a West Virginia resident. “It washed out a lot of our roads, people lost their homes, and many members of our community lost their lives.”
After the flood, Morgan knew more so than ever that she needed online connectivity at her rural family home.
“We don’t have a house phone, and it’s not uncommon out here to go for days without talking to people,” Morgan explained. “If there’s an emergency situation, I need to let someone know.”
Morgan was recently able to achieve this connectivity with Viasat satellite internet. Now, she and her family can reach the outside world from their remote location. Before this, however, the Morgans struggled with living on the wrong side of the digital divide for more reasons than one.
Life before connectivity
Morgan has lived in rural West Virginia for most of her life.
“There’s no place more beautiful,” she said. “Once you’re here, your heart’s here. And the people in West Virginia are strong. You may not always see each other, but if you need anything, they’re always there.”
Morgan lives with her two adopted grandchildren and husband, who used to be a building contractor before he was diagnosed with cancer. The family once had internet at their home, but they lost it when they could no longer afford it due to medical expenses.
Before retiring to take care of her family, Morgan worked at the federal prison as a correctional officer and legal instruments examiner. Now, she dedicates her time to helping her husband make his doctor appointments and providing her grandchildren with the resources they need to do well in school. Without internet, though, these tasks were nearly impossible.
“We love our country roads here, but they’re what make us obsolete,” Morgan said. “If it’s snowing, nobody’s sending out a plow. Without internet, I can’t schedule appointments for my husband online and the kids can’t get their homework.”
With grandkids aged 9 and 15, Morgan finds it harder and harder to keep up.
“It’s especially hard with common core – I’m way old,” Morgan said. “If I don’t know how to help them on homework and can’t get online to find examples, I’m lost.”
As their schools become more technologically advanced, it also becomes more difficult to stay in the know.
“Gavin’s a teenager, and it’s hard without internet for me to check his grades,” Morgan said. “Teenage boys don’t really want to tell you their grades and assignments, so I need to be able to get in touch with the teachers. They post all the school activities and sports practice updates online, too.”
Morgan also fears the connectivity setbacks in West Virginia will have a lasting negative impact on the youth and state as a whole.
“Without technology, all the young people are going to have to leave to go get jobs,” Morgan said. “Everything’s going to come down to technology. It’s so important that people continue to work here for the economy and tourism industry.”
Life with internet
Now that the Morgans have satellite internet, they can enjoy living in the country while still being connected to the world beyond the farm. And in case there’s another emergency, they know they can call for help.
“We got a rescue hound after the floods,” Morgan said. “I can stay in touch with our hound trainer who lives far away … to keep updated on rescue training with my dog.”
Morgan can also take advantage of telemedicine to help her husband, and her grandchildren can get online to complete and submit assignments – among many other perks.
“I like to get online and research things,” Morgan said. “And the internet is great for shopping. Walmart is about the only store we have here, so if I need anything from another place, I can get it online.”
Morgan has also been able get in touch with family members who live across the country.
“I love to connect with my family,” Morgan said. “We get on Facebook and all talk in a big group chat.”
Getting online has had a profound effect on Morgan and her family, and now she’ll never go back.
“There’s a lot of things you miss out there without internet,” Morgan said. “I didn’t even know the world was really that big. Now I do.”