Connectivity is vital to rural areas

 |Pastor Josh Cate and his family (left to right) wife Amber, son Rylan and daughter Kamry

Some eight miles from the nearest town lies a small church down a quiet country road in Haskell County. Surrounded by rolling hills with pastures, and sitting next to a small cemetery, West Liberty Baptist Church has been a fixture of this area since 1894, and people have been worshiping there ever since. 

The Covid pandemic forced everyone to look at new ways to continue carrying out their traditions and this included churches. How were people going to find ways to connect during a pandemic with extended times of quarantine? The immediate and obvious solution for most was technology-driven, and more specifically, utilizing the internet to fill the enormous gap caused by this worldwide event. While this was a difficult challenge for almost everyone, it was nearly an impossible obstacle for those in rural areas who didn’t have access to fast, reliable internet service. Up until the pandemic, those living in rural areas typically viewed the lack of high-speed internet as an inconvenience that folks just learned to live with, but the internet has since transitioned from a luxury to an essential utility that rivals running water and electricity. 

With safety on everyone’s minds, country churches like West Liberty struggled to find ways to continue holding worship services. “At the time of the Covid-19 outbreak, we didn’t have access to high-speed internet at the church and neither did most of our members who largely reside in rural areas, and that was a real problem for us,” said Josh Cate, Pastor of West Liberty. “We just didn’t have a mechanism in place to be able to share our worship services with those who were unable to attend in person. There were a lot of unknowns at the time, and a global pandemic wasn’t something most churches, including us, had a surefire plan for. When we heard about Cookson Hills Electric offering fiber internet to those in rural areas, we knew it was going to be a game-changer for us. Cookson Hills Connect fiber now allows us to stream services so our members who can’t attend can still participate and remain an active part of our church family. It has just been a true blessing to us.” 

The streaming of church services is only one of many benefits made possible when quality internet is available to everyone, including rural Oklahomans. Cookson Hills Electric Cooperative and other electric cooperatives in Oklahoma are fulfilling a mission to provide a long-overdue service to thousands of Oklahoma residents. 

Juli Orme, CEO of Cookson Hills Connect, says that “One of the most satisfying results of bringing fiber internet to our members is seeing how it allows them to be connected. It has truly changed lives and had an incredible impact on so many.  Whether it is connecting with their family, church, school, or work, our goal is to help improve the lives of our members, and we are grateful for the opportunity to play a role in those important connections.”