A fascinating and important experiment is about to begin in McDowell County, W.Va. How it turns out will have ramifications for the entire state and, for that matter, for struggling rural areas elsewhere.
McDowell County has one of the worst economies in the Mountain State, with 9.4 percent unemployment. Student achievement in county schools is dismal. The future is not bright for McDowell Countians.
A major initiative, Reconnecting McDowell, was begun several months ago to improve the county's outlook. Projects to improve schools, the economy and other aspects of life are underway.
A Virginia company, Shenandoah Telecommunications Inc., had announced a $9.5 million plan to make high-speed Internet available to 90 percent of McDowell County homes by the end of this year.
Lack of high-speed Internet access often is cited as a factor in holding economies and education back. It will be instructive to see what effect the change, along with other initiatives, has on McDowell County.