Erik Mouthaan (L) and Freek Herberts visit the Hur Herald office
Jan. 14, 2014
Story and Photos by Drew Moody
Last week, three stories brought the North American bureau chief of RTL-TV news (The Netherlands) and his cameraman to West Virginia.
While state and national media focused on the toxic chemical spill in Charleston, Erik Mouthaan and his cameraman, Freek Herberts, traveled the back roads of the Mountain State for other reasons.
Based in New York City, the pair spent a day in Calhoun County putting together a story about the lack of high-speed Internet access.
In addition, they also focused on prescription drug addiction and the coal industry in the state.
"The fact that 1-in-7 people (in the U.S.) don't have access to the Internet is mind-boggling to me," Mouthaan said last week. He surmised since America is the home to Google, Microsoft, Apple, Amazon and invented the concept of online shopping there is no good reason why everyone shouldn't have access to high-speed Internet.
A problem in rural West Virginia is selling so-called high-speed that really doesn't come close to advertised speeds.
"Back home in Holland connectivity to the Internet is not an issue. We have 5-percent of the population not online and it's mainly because they choose not to," he said, with real broadband speeds.
RTL-TV producers in New York City began researching the lack of rural broadband and stumbled on The Hur Herald's extensive and ongoing coverage of the issue.
Hur Herald owner/publisher, Bob Weaver, subsequently agreed to assist them with the story.
Will Dobbins, of near Chloe shared his difficulty
running a home-based computer repair business
with slow and undependable Internet service
Dobbins said at times the connection speed operates at such a crawl if he were to attempt to download a full-length movie it could take 14-days.
Marvin and Peggy Stemple, of the Rocksdale/Richardson area of Calhoun County still have to use a dial-up connection using a phone line modem.
Marvin Stemple demonstrates the slowness of his Internet connection
If they're lucky they can connect to the Hur Herald and view the home page after waiting five minutes to download it at the 56k connection speed.
By comparison, using AT&T's Internet speed test a Shentel cable modem in Burnsville, WV, clocked download speeds 394-times faster than a 56k modem.
Weaver's Hur Herald uses a combination of Frontier's Internet service and HughesNet satellite.
The pairing is costly and is slow by mainstream high-speed standards. "We keep getting told it's going to get better," Weaver said.
However, the promises government and politicians have made, along with many phone and cable providers, are largely unfulfilled in rural West Virginia where less than half the population has access to real high-speed Internet.
Mouthaan and Herberts also traveled to the Wyoming County city of Oceana interviewing citizens about the documentary "Oxyana," which locals say Oceana is now known as because of the OxyCotin addiction levels there.
And finally, they also were working on a news story about the economic impact of the decreased demand for coal and how changes in EPA regulations were affecting mining here.
Erik Mouthaan talks "high-speed" with
Bob Weaver publisher of the Hur Herald
RTL News' trip to Calhoun County this week isn't the first time media have stopped by The Hur Herald to visit with Bob Weaver.
Writers from The Atlantic and Business Week magazines have made the pilgrimage. Several daily newspaper reporters and columnists have stopped in and done stories.
And Weaver has been featured in several TV documentaries, including one produced by PBS. The Hur Herald is in its 15th year of publication and has over 2-million unique visitors to the website annually.