How High-Speed Internet is Bringing People ‘Out of the dark Ages’ to reshape Work and Life in Rural America

By Deborah Bach | Microsoft

As Beth Carlson prepared to take her son to a hospital eight hours away for surgery on a benign brain tumor last winter, one major worry aside from the procedure weighed on her mind.

How would the family stay in touch with Xander, 13, while he was away for weeks of treatment afterward? They’d tried video chats during a previous hospital stay, but the internet connection on the farm where they live was too slow. They could talk by phone, but it wasn’t the same as being able to see her boy’s face and look for the signs a mother knows to tell if he was OK. Xander’s two sisters, one older and one younger, were also worried about him.

“That was our biggest concern — how do you stay connected with him?” says Carlson, who lives in Orion, Illinois, a town of about 1,800 people. “It was hard. He was doing very, very well and stayed in great spirits, which made it easier, but it was very hard not to be able to just hug on him and be there with him.”

Carlson needed a solution and found it, ironically, on a social media thread where other Orion residents were posting about their connectivity issues. Someone mentioned Network Business Systems Inc., a small internet provider in the area and a partner in Microsoft’s Airband Initiative, a five-year commitment to bring broadband access to 3 million people in unserved rural communities nationwide by July 2022. Carlson contacted the company, which set up an internet tower for the family on a grain tower at a nearby farm.

As Xander recovered from brain surgery at St. Jude Children’s Research Center in Memphis and later, as he underwent six weeks of radiation, the family was able to visit with him every day via video chat when they couldn’t be there. Xander missed his dog, an Australian shepherd named Arrow, so his sisters would prop one of their phones up near him so Xander could see and talk to him.

The faster connection provided other benefits too — Xander’s sisters, Noelle and Svea, no longer had to go to the library to do homework during frequent internet outages, and for the first time in their lives, the family could stream movies at home.

Read the full Microsoft article here.

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