HEFLIN — By the time it reaches Rhianna Pope’s residence on County Road 821 in rural Cleburne County, the information superhighway has hit a few bumps and potholes.
Pope, 14, is a seventh-grader at Cleburne County Middle School. She lives on a crumbling one-lane asphalt road with her brother, Koby Hale, 10, and her great-grandmother Lola Stephens.
Access to the internet — crucial for remote schooling during the pandemic — is marginal at best.
“I don’t like the internet here. It’s bad. It’s horrible,” Pope said.
Pope also doesn’t have access to a computer at home to use for remote classes. “Sometimes I use my iPad, and sometimes I use my phone,” Pope said, although that day her iPad was not working.
Online classes should be easier when school starts back next week. Pope’s family was one of three selected to receive a new computer along with a hot spot to help connect to the internet, thanks to a grant from the Alabama Power foundation.
According to Jennifer Swafford, counselor at the middle school, there are not enough Chromebook laptop computers to issue one to each student the way the high school is able to do.
On campus, every middle school student has access to a Chromebook, but Swafford said students are only able to take the computers home if they have chosen full-time virtual learning and don’t attend in-school classes, or if they are under quarantine due to COVID-19 exposure.
“I know it will be a blessing to the family,” Swafford said.
Sometimes, no signal
Even if Pope was issued a Chromebook full-time, internet connectivity would still be an issue.
“The internet is, like, very slow sometimes and it can be very difficult,” said a soft-spoken Pope.
“It will just say, ‘no internet connection,’ and like the other day the lights and stuff were all green and the TV wasn’t working and it kept on saying, ‘there’s no signal,’” Pope said.
“For three months, we couldn’t use the internet. I had to stream my internet from my phone,” she said.
Pope’s great-aunt, Gersheba Austin, said the family’s internet provider, Centurytel, had to come out twice because the service would go out randomly.
Centurytel, also known as CenturyLink, changed its name last year to Lumen. When asked about Lumen’s efforts to provide internet service to Cleburne County, public relations manager Danielle Spears responded with an email.
“Sparsely populated areas like Cleburne County are difficult for any communications provider to serve due to the costs of building and maintaining the network infrastructure,” Spears wrote.
“We’re always looking at ways to expand or enhance our broadband services, which includes working closely with policymakers on creative public-private partnerships that encourage broadband investment and bring high-speed internet services to more homes and businesses.”
Stephens, the great-grandmother, said at first there was no internet available at her residence when online learning became necessary, forcing the family to temporarily relocate with a family member who had internet service.
Pope said the home wifi will go out without warning or cause.
Austin was appreciative of the new computer and hot spot, which will help with Pope’s online learning experience.
“I’m thankful for the faculty that nominated her and submitted her name. She’ll be able to make really good use of having that computer,” Austin said.
For her part, Pope said she is “very, very grateful” for the computer she will receive.
Staff writer Bill Wilson: 256-235-3562. On Twitter @bwilson_star.