Internet access is increasingly essential for the growth and success of rural communities across the country. We recently visited Murfreesboro, N.C. — a town with less than 3,000 residents — for an Internet Community Crawl to hear directly from local business owners and community leaders about the impact of internet-enabled services in the rural community. What we learned from our visit is a story we hear all too often: Access to the internet isn’t always available or reliable, but it’s necessary if communities like Murfreesboro want to continue to prosper and keep pace with the rest of the world. The internet, and the online platforms and services people use every day, provides residents in Murfreesboro with endless resources at their fingertips, allows businesses to expand their reach and customer base, and helps communities to come together around shared interests.
Our crawl through Main Street included stops at the Murfreesboro Chamber of Commerce, Elizabeth S. Parker Memorial Library, Revelle Realty, and Tavern 125, each of which highlighted the critical role the internet plays in growing their organizations and strengthening the community. The town recently held its 34th Annual North Carolina Watermelon Festival in Historic Downtown Murfreesboro, and Chamber Executive Director Daryl Williams discussed how local and surrounding residents used social media to share festival updates, schedules and photos leading up to and after the beloved event.
We then stopped by the local public library where Branch Head Judy Hachey highlighted the facility as an essential hub for those who don’t have internet access at home. Many residents of Murfreesboro and neighboring areas visit the library to use the internet to apply for jobs, research information for school, and connect with friends and family on social media. The library also partners with the larger North Carolina public library system to offer digital collections of books and other resources that people can access from anywhere with an internet connection.
The third stop on our crawl was Revelle Realty, where Owner Elicia Revelle explained how she uses online platforms to promote her realty business. The internet helps her connect with new home buyers and sellers, market available homes for an affordable cost, and communicate with clients in a timely and efficient manner. Elicia said because of Revelle Realty’s online presence, she’s often the first stop when a buyer or seller is looking for a real estate agent.
These stories aren’t unique to this area, but Murfreesboro is a great example of how the internet connects small towns with larger communities, enabling small businesses to flourish in an ever-evolving digital world. The stories we heard on our crawl highlight the importance of addressing the digital divide and achieve a fully connected rural America.
Tavern 125 was our last stop, where we heard from Owner Keith Bradshaw about the many ways the internet has evolved how he does business. If you walk into the tavern today, you’ll see an internet-enabled point-of-sale and ticketing system, and his employees rely on an online scheduling system to sign up for and trade shifts. He also uses the internet to find inspiration for new recipes, to inform regulars of daily specials and menu updates, and to promote the restaurant to out of towners in need of a meal.
Small businesses and community organizations in America – like those we met with in Murfreesboro – can thrive in the 21st century economy when they have access to affordable and reliable internet services. Whether you’re a real estate business, public library, or a restaurant, the internet fosters economic opportunity, cultural inclusion, and community building. We look forward to working together to ensure policy supports the innovations of tomorrow, and in turn, a better future for our communities.
Butterfield represents North Carolina’s 1st District and Beckerman is President & CEO of the Internet Association.