One of the challenges of residing in Kentucky’s beautiful rural landscape is finding viable employment opportunities nearby. As a result, many workers face long commutes to make a living. This is especially true in areas that have been impacted by the depressed demand for coal.
Owsley and Jackson counties are within the region that was hit hardest by the decline of the coal industry. In the wake of lost jobs, citizens in this area have turned to increased internet connectivity as a way to create new employment opportunities for themselves. In recent years, the People’s Rural Telephone Cooperative (PRTC) installed fiber lines that can deliver reliable 1 gigabit per second internet speed to every home, business and school in Owsley and Jackson counties.
Mellisa Suntken is a shining example of how Kentuckians can explore new employment avenues when they have access to reliable high-speed, high-capacity internet. Suntken, a 22 year Owsley county resident, has been teaching English to students in China for the past year and a half, and making a dependable income right from home.
Suntken began her work-from-home journey with Teleworks USA, which provides training to job seekers and helps them find remote job opportunities. After completing a six week course with Teleworks USA, the program helped to place her with a job. It wasn’t long before Suntken started to explore other opportunities and ultimately found her dream job working for PalFish.
Many people might assume that these types of jobs exist, but only for those with impressive credentials and access to complex computer equipment and programs. However, this is not the case. Suntken uses the wi-fi in her home to connect to an app on her cell phone. The app provides slides for her to preview and read to her students, and everything is entirely in English. She is also able to set her own work schedule.
“When I found this job, I started an application and forty-five minutes later I was working. This has been the best thing that has ever happened to me. People have told me my whole life that I have the gift of gab, and now I get paid to talk,” Suntken said.
Suntken believes that these types of jobs could greatly impact her community if others in the area began to explore the opportunities their high-speed internet connection provides. The app she is involved with is just one of many teaching apps that Kentuckians can connect with to make a living.
For those who are looking to begin their quest for legitimate at-home opportunities, Teleworks USA is a great starting point. The program has already forged active partnerships with multiple global telework employers in an effort to develop new job opportunities for Eastern Kentucky’s remote workforce.
Suntken also acknowledges that many people might be scared to get started with something of this nature, because there are a lot of scams out there. “I took time to research and looked around for online jobs that were legit and credible. The job I found was verified,” she shared.
When Suntken speaks about her job, her voice is full of excitement and it is apparent that she loves what she does. “I really wish more people in Owsley county would get involved. Pretty much anyone could do this. It doesn’t require a college degree or even a GED. Teenagers can even become teachers. To be honest, it’s fun and kind of addictive,” she said.
When she first started as a teacher, Suntken set her rates low to attract new students. Over time she has established herself as reliable and trustworthy, and now has many repeat students that schedule their lessons specifically with her. This credibility has allowed her to be able to increase her hourly rate and she is now working fewer hours and making more money than when she first started. She is now earning $4,000 a month, without ever leaving the comfort of her own home.
While Owsley and Jackson county residents already have access to fiber infrastructure, a “digital divide” still remains in most rural Kentucky areas. Kentuckians are now looking forward to the completion of the statewide fiber broadband network that will change these circumstances. The KentuckyWired project will bring more than 3,000 miles of high-speed, high-capacity fiber infrastructure, often referred to as the “middle mile” to all 120 Kentucky counties. Access will be provided for state agencies, as well as network capacity for local providers, who can extend last mile infrastructure to local homes and businesses.
The Center for Rural Development is dedicated to helping communities explore ways to become “fiber ready.” It is important to note that Southern and Eastern Kentucky communities have this exceptional resource available to them as they explore how to prepare for the future.
The Center for Rural Development has recently launched a new Technology Assistance Program (TAP) to help communities begin asset mapping, perform feasibility studies, and conduct pre-engineering analysis of community fiber projects or other activities that will extend the reach of the KentuckyWired fiber infrastructure. The initiative is funded by grant KY-18984-17 from the Appalachian Regional Commission and is administered by The Center for Rural Development. The Center has additional information about local, state, and federal funds that support the initiative to bring broadband access to rural areas.
The mission of The Center is to positively impact the communities within 45 counties of Southern and Eastern Kentucky, through supporting the implementation of KentuckyWired infrastructure. The Center is working to close the digital divide. Communities interested in broadband training opportunities are encouraged to contact The Center at email@example.com or 606-677-6000 or visit www.centertech.com.