High Speed Solution: Musician’s career dwindling after move to rural home, frustration over lack of internet options

Sarah Haag hopeful Whitley Co. officials fund broadband infrastructure
Published: Sep. 9, 2022 at 5:15 PM EDT
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WHITLEY COUNTY, Ind. (WPTA21) - Earlier this week, residents living in rural Whitley County spoke before county council, urging for an investment in high speed fiber internet infrastructure. It’s a local example, of a national discussion to get as many homes across the country a reliable broadband connection. Internet is less of a luxury, and more of a necessity — with the pandemic shifting people and students to work and learn at home. Those without it, risk losing out on opportunities.

It’s a lesson Sarah Haag is experiencing now. The musician left a corporate career to play percussion with her husband professionally. Their business, Rhythmwood Drive showcases their talents on the cajon, marimba, hammered dulcimer and more. Most of their success is seen performing as part of the Ted Yoder Band. “We’ve been doing live shows. We’ve been doing recordings with the bands,” Haag said. “We’ve actually been on three full-length albums just since 2020.” Like many, when their concerts were canceled during the pandemic, they began performing them online. “We went to exclusively live-streaming,” she added. “We did livestreams out of our home in Fortville, where I had 100 megabits [per second] upload and download on fiber optics in rural Hancock County — which I had for several years.”

During that time, it went well, and was growing rapidly. The band used a multi-camera setup to give those tuning in, a concert at home. It also gave them a chance to interact with viewers in between songs. And they generated tips from several revenue streams like Facebook, Youtube, Patreon, and Twitch. “I even did some morning streams on my marimba,” Haag shared. “I called it ‘mellow marimba’ and I just did improvisations… People would put it on as they did work in the morning, and jump in and out of chat.”

But four months ago, Haag, her husband and son, moved in with her mother — who lives on a tucked away property north of Coesse. “We wanted to downsize. My dad passed away and she didn’t want to take care of the 20-some acres,” she explained. And long after the stress of moving, the worst of it would come long after they were settled.

The separate studio the Haag’s record their music in is perfect for what they need — but it’s isolated from any stable internet connection that allows them to continue their work. “Before we moved, I did look into options. This is a big part of my lifestyle and we wanted to continue with it,” she told us. “If one of them doesn’t work out, one of them will.” But after seeking services like Mercury Broadband, Mediacom, and T-Mobile, live-streaming is still not possible. The connection is far too slow. Currently, they use Verizon, which gets them around 1 mbps upload/download. “I knew we were not going to have fiber optics — I knew I was giving that up,” she continued. “But I thought we could at least meet the broadband minimum of 3 mbps upload, which is required to livestream.”

Sarah Haag is waiting for two potential high speed solutions, that would get her the broadband connection she needs, to resume her music career. She applied to be on the waitlist for SpaceX’s new broadband service Starlink. The company calls itself “the world’s first and largest satellite constellation” which says its devices orbiting Earth will deliver fast internet to remote locations. She expects she won’t hear any updates on that, until 2023. In the meantime, she’s been following, and supporting a push to use federal funds given to Whitley County, to pay Surf Internet to build a fiber infrastructure in rural areas. Commissioner Theresa Baysinger is drafting an ordinance and proposal to make it happen. But it’s incredible costly and challenging to build. Surf Internet says $1.7 million dollars from the county (money spent, from what Whitley County received from the America Rescue Plan Act) to connect a little over 750 homes. After that, Surf Internet told county council, they can apply for state and federal dollars to continue expansion. Until they agree to that plan or offer an alternative, Haag plans to continue to advocate for her neighbors, and urge politicians to draft and pay for a solution that will bring broadband to their backyards.

“It’s very hard to empathize if you have fast internet, or if you don’t have fast internet — but you don’t personally have the need for it now,” she concluded. “If it’s not a factor for a particular individual now, it will be. And now’s the time to act on that.”