By Larry Bud Meyer

Foothills Forum chairman

Wednesday evening Rappahannock County citizens get a chance to align interests with opportunity when the county and the Greater Piedmont Area Association of Realtors host a community discussion of broadband service in rural areas.

The meeting is set for 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Rappahannock County High School Auditorium. Read more about it in this week’s Rappahannock News:

Our county administrator, John McCarthy, put it well in the News article in explaining the purpose:  “The fact is, the free market isn’t solving our problem, and I’m expecting we’ll have to solve it ourselves.”

Here’s why I believe this is of interest to members and supporters of Foothills Forum — and in complete alignment with our mission. We held five community focus groups in May to solicit input on local issues with a variety of demographic and economic groups. The focus groups were a first step in providing critical background to our partners at the University of Virginia’s Center for Survey Research so they can write this fall’s important Foothills Forum Survey going to 3,000+ households in the county. (BTW, they’ve sent us a first draft, now getting a good close look and review by our topnotch survey committee).

The No. 1 issue arising across the board from the dozens of county citizens in the focus groups was Rappahannock’s lack of across-the-board Internet coverage, wireless and cellphone service. Business owners, workers, senior citizens, our agriculture community and young families all cited this lack of connectivity as an impediment to public safety, business opportunity and just plain communication.

So, ahead of the kind of research and reporting on the issue that Foothills Forum will likely commission following the fall survey comes this timely opportunity Wednesday to gather and understand a big issue together. Kudos to the county and the Realtors for giving us the opportunity, the first such conversation about broadband in rural communities in the state of Virginia, according to the News.

And it’s also encouraging that the forum’s main speaker, Basil Gooden of the U.S.D.A.’s Rural Development program, intends to focus on policy considerations. I like his way of framing the session’s intent for the way it aligns with our focus groups’ many comments: “Developing broadband policies that will help empower us to work where we live.”

The thoughtful approach, the forum setting, the multiple hosts, the chance to work collectively on a key community issue — all these elements resemble the way Foothills Forum hopes to work in the future. It’s what we’re all about: Rappahannock’s future.

That’s why I’m going.

Hope to see you there.