Solar-powered trailers help fill internet dead zones in Sherman County

Ryan LeBlanc installs an antenna on a solar-powered trailer in Moro, Ore., Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2020. Sherman County is using the trailers to help fill internet dead zones.

Ryan LeBlanc installs an antenna on a solar-powered trailer in Moro, Ore., Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2020. Sherman County is using the trailers to help fill internet dead zones.

Bradley W. Parks / OPB

Sherman County is turning to tiny, shiny, sun-powered trailers to fill gaps in high-speed internet coverage in Oregon’s windswept wheat country.

The coronavirus brought a new sense of urgency to the long-standing issue of bringing rural communities online.

As distance learning, remote work and telemedicine took root this spring, some Sherman County residents were still relying on satellite internet or even dial-up, seeing download speeds of 1 or 2 MB per second (Mbps). That’s far below the federal minimum standard of 25 Mbps and hardly capable of supporting a Zoom meeting.

Though Sherman County has worked for years to upgrade its internet system, the pandemic laid bare an issue plaguing rural communities everywhere.

“There’s places that just

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In Wi-Fi ‘Dead Zones,’ Rural Students Can’t Log On to Virtual School

Shekinah and Orlandria Lennon were sitting at their kitchen table this fall, taking online classes, when video of their teachers and fellow students suddenly froze on their laptop screens. The wireless antenna on the roof had stopped working, and it could not be fixed.

Desperate for a solution, their mother called five broadband companies, trying to get connections for their home in Orrum, N.C., a rural community of fewer than 100 people with no grocery store or traffic lights.

All the companies gave the same answer: Service is not available in your area.

The response is the same across broad stretches of Robeson County, N.C., a swath of small towns and rural places like Orrum dotted among soybean fields and hog farms on the South Carolina border. About 20,000 of the county’s homes, or 43 percent of all households, have no internet connection.

The technology gap has prompted teachers to

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No signal: Internet ‘dead zones’ cut rural students off from virtual classes.

Shekinah and Orlandria Lennon were sitting at their kitchen table this fall, taking online classes, when video of their teachers and fellow students suddenly froze on their laptop screens. The wireless antenna on the roof had stopped working, and it couldn’t be fixed.

Desperate for a solution, their mother called five broadband companies, trying to get connections for their home in Orrum, N.C., a rural community of fewer than 100 people with no grocery store or traffic lights.

All the companies gave the same answer: Service is not available in your area.

“It’s not fair,” said Shekinah, 17. “I don’t think just the people who live in the city should have internet. We need it in the country, too.”

Millions of American students are grappling with the same challenges, learning remotely without adequate home internet service. About 15 million K-12 students lived in households without adequate online connectivity or remote

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