Nationwide, about 21 million people lack access to broadband, according to the Federal Communications Commission. When people with slow or unreliable internet connections are included, the number swells to 157 million, nearly half the U.S. population, according to a study by Microsoft Corp.
Providing service in sparsely populated areas is typically more costly and less profitable than in suburbs and cities. In Appalachia, the terrain has made it difficult to install and maintain the infrastructure necessary for broadband.
In West Virginia, between 30% and 50% of K-12 students don’t have internet access at home, according to the state Department of Education. By the start of school on Tuesday, the state had set up nearly 850 Wi-Fi hot spots at schools, libraries, National Guard armories and state parks for students.