Enosburg, Vermont, is a postcard of small-town America. Known as the “dairy capital of the world” for its annual dairy festival, it boasts a handsome main street, a white-steepled church, a covered bridge, and a picturesque river known as the Missisquoi that flows into nearby Lake Champlain. There is even a set of falls which gives the village of Enosburg Falls, at the northwest corner of the town, its name.
While Enosburg is blessed with natural beauty and proximity to state forests, watersports, and ski facilities, residents face a challenge that has held them back from accessing high-paying jobs and other opportunities: lack of high-speed internet. Fortunately, that all changed before the world began to shut down, and it changed the life of at least one Enosburg Falls resident—and his family.
Wi-Fi, in the nick of time
“We were very limited in the days before high-speed internet,” says Tim Valley, the director of quality at a local pharmaceutical company. “If more than two people used Wi-Fi on their phones, it would lag. Work from home was almost impossible. We couldn’t use video calls—either it would break up or drop entirely.”
Then Comcast introduced its high-speed gigabit offering, Xfinity, to the region. In February of 2020, Valley made the switch. “It took a lot of aggravation for me to switch, because I was happy with my phone and TV,” he recalls. “But the internet got so bad that I was willing to give up the other two.” Fortunately, Xfinity also offers a phone package, which allowed him to cut his phone bill in half. “Now I get more service on my phone in more locations, on top of significantly better internet service,” he says. The decision was fortuitous; unbeknownst to Valley, the COVID-19 pandemic would hit only one month later, pushing Valley and his wife into work-from-home situations.
Big Family, Big Needs
In the wake of the pandemic, Valley hasbeen working at home for 15 months. His wife, a wellness coach, recently started working from home as well. “So we have people working at home at least nine hours a day,” he points out.
Remote work is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of internet use in the household, however. The Valleys’ blended family means there are seven people who need Wi-Fi service when everyone is at home, and a big family meal can often expand to upwards of 20 people. In addition to standard cell phone use, that also means video games on the Xbox, mobile games that require internet, streaming movies, and TV. In stark contrast to the limitations of their previous service, their internet can keep up with all of it now—making it easier for family members to visit more and stay longer.
A Boost for Rural Enterprise
While his family has been fortunate, Valley believes that lack of high-speed is holding rural America back. “When COVID hit, my company had so many people who needed to work from home,” he notes. “And they are in even more remote locations without access to the same internet capabilities We had to implement a no-video call policy at my office because of the lack of high-speed internet in some areas, because calls would sometimes drop.”
While Valley will be heading back to the office soon, his new Wi-Fi service means that he can continue to work from home two days a week. In this sense, his experience is typical of many post-COVID workplaces that are adopting hybrid models. “If this is an ongoing trend, we need to have the internet to make it feasible for more people,” he says. “Expanding broadband would really give us a boost.”
This is a lesson that his company has learned the hard way, as one of its employees recently quit their job for a position that’s 100% work from home—which was a big draw for them. “With good internet, it doesn’t matter where you live,” Valley concludes. “You can land an awesome job based in Boston or New York City, while enjoying a better quality of life in a rural area. You can live on the side of a mountain and still enjoy your work.”
Tim Valley has succeeded in acquiring internet service that has allowed himself and his wife to work from home while satisfying the needs of a large family. But other homes in still-more rural places are not that lucky. To find out how you can get involved in making broadband available to everyone in America, click here.