Broadband Powers Entrepreneurship in Rural New England

Autumn landscape in Rural New England

The year was 1998 and social entrepreneur Shel Horowitz had just moved to a rural farmstead in the shadow of Mount Holyoke in Western Massachusetts. The setting couldn’t be more perfect, except for one problem, his internet access. “The only thing available was a 1200 BPS connection that, even then, made a quarter of the internet unusable,” he recalls.

So when Horowitz saw workers rolling cable past his house, he got on the phone to see how he could sign up. Fast forward 23 years later, and today his Spectrum broadband service is a lifeline for Horowitz, enabling his remote business, opening up cultural and educational opportunities, and connecting him to far-flung family and friends – things that have become even more crucial during the pandemic. We talked with Horowitz to discuss his experience and he outlined four important ways that broadband has empowered different aspects of his life. 

Powering an entirely remote business

Horowitz was ahead of the technology curve for decades, pioneering a while-you-wait résumé service with his first Mac computer in the 1980s and later expanding his work to include overseas clients. Thanks to broadband, Horowitz has been able to both broaden and deepen his business. Today, his range of services includes copywriting, book shepherding, and helping companies adopt environmental sustainability into their business strategies. During the pandemic, he made two key tweaks: upgrading his Zoom account and subscribing to the appointment scheduling software Calendly. “For $30 a month, I can make the whole business remote,” he says. “An investment that is more than paid for with just one résumé job.” Streaming video apps, like Zoom, require strong bandwidth to reliably connect with clients scattered across the globe – and his Spectrum connection has been more than up to the job.  

Communicating with family across the globe

With family in Israel and friends as far away as Africa and New Zealand, Horowitz has maximized the possibilities of one of broadband’s most essential functions: keeping us in touch with loved ones. And when the pandemic prevented him from attending a niece’s wedding in person, Horowitz was able to watch it live online, using a casting device to pass the signal from his laptop onto a large-screen TV. “We were able to watch them not only walk down the aisle, but also while they were getting ready and talking before the ceremony,” he says. “It was wonderful to be able to be there—even virtually.”    

Connecting to learning and culture

An avid reader and lifelong learner, Horowitz is strongly attuned to the internet’s practically unlimited offerings of education and culture. In practice, that means everything from British theater to the Berlin Philharmonic. “If I’m working on something that doesn’t require all of my concentration, I’ll often have an educational program, webinar, podcast, or concert going on the second computer,” he says. During the pandemic, he participated in conferences in Geneva, Paris, and South Africa, together with two Earth Day Conferences sponsored by the United Nations. He even had the opportunity to experience the intersection of culture and the internet from the production side. “My younger child is a musician and has done a number of live events over the web,” he explains. “While they were staying here in the early days of the pandemic, we got to see how it all works from the other side of the camera.” 

Organizing for important issues

As a member of a Jewish group campaigning for immigration justice, Horowitz is well aware of the power of the internet for organizing. Fast broadband allows the group access to more resources, provides the ability to caucus remotely when decisions need to be made quickly, and helps them amplify their message by coordinating with other groups working on the same issues. It also allows contacts made in person to be maintained and expanded. “We went down to the border as part of a delegation just before it was closed for the pandemic,” Horowitz explains. “And thanks to the internet, we’ve been able to continue working with the lawyers, resource centers, and international groups we met while we were there.”    

The democratization of technology and opportunity 

Toward the end of the interview, Horowitz becomes reflective regarding the evolution of technology and its potential to democratize information. “When I grew up, you rationed your long-distance calls and did them after 11 PM,” he notes. “In college, we had one rotary dial phone for the entire floor. And only 20 years ago, you needed $15,000 worth of equipment and a special phone line just to do a webinar. Now anyone can do one.” Above and beyond its other advantages, it is this democratization of technology – and opportunity – that is broadband’s most world-changing feature of all.

The internet is a critical piece of expanding opportunity to all – but there are still many Americans who have limited connectivity. To find out more about our work to bring broadband to every corner of the country, achieving 100% connectivity, click here.