Can We Live Without the Internet Post COVID-19?

A PowerNET wireless internet technician installs broadcasting equipment on a tower overlooking Prosser, Washington. He is in the bucket of a utility truck.

If we learned anything in 2020, it’s that every home in America needs reliable access to the internet.

In 2020, 4 million fewer shoppers made purchases during the Black Friday weekend than in 2019, yet Cyber Monday online shopping rose 15%, according to Adobe Analytics.

With state and local orders to stay home, schools turning to full-time and hybrid online learning environments, and many employees bringing their office equipment into their spare bedrooms, functioning in a post-pandemic world without internet access in the home could be nearly impossible.

PowerNET, Benton REA’s internet and technology division, saw this need first-hand. The company’s free internet signal test requests rose 27% in 2020 from the previous year, despite a decrease in advertising.

“Requests rose in March immediately after the first stay-at-home order,” says Paul Cardenas, technical support supervisor. “There was another rise at the beginning of the new school year in September.” 

The internet company also saw a number of clients upgrade to higher tier packages to support teleworking and distance learning.

PowerNET not only provides internet access to Benton and Yakima counties, its technology consulting services remain crucial to local businesses during the pandemic.

PowerNET serves schools, city governments, police departments, fire districts, engineering firms, publishing companies, ag and farm businesses, chambers of commerce and other essential private businesses. Maintaining their servers, e-commerce websites and troubleshooting computer equipment malfunctions helped the community get through the trying 2020 economic season.

The only service that decreased in 2020 was PowerNET’s computer repair division. Since Benton REA offices closed in March 2020, customers have not been able to drop off computer equipment for repair.

Jeff Bastow, Benton REA’s IT manager, anticipates this service will resume once the co-op’s doors can safely reopen.

In addition to increased signal test requests and internet upgrades, PowerNET employees upgraded the equipment at several towers, improving capacity in Granger, Prosser and Sunnyside. One-third of tower upgrades are complete and the team hopes to finish at all locations in 2021, significantly increasing speeds and availability for new customers to come online.

PowerNET began April 1, 1997, with dial-up internet service. Technology and the demand for it has increased exponentially in 24 years. 

Jeff says his team tested faster internet technologies in 2020, but is still looking for equipment that is both fast and reliable for future upgrades.

“I imagine there will be a number of customers who will reprioritize other expenditures immediately after they return to work and school as normal,” Paul says. “However, overall dependencies on the internet continue to grow by leaps and bounds every day—no time like the present to show just how much.”

PowerNET services are not limited to Benton REA electric members. In fact, about 60% of the technology division’s customers are not Benton REA members.

To learn more about PowerNET’s internet and technology services, visit or call 509-786-4004.

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