Today Senator Smith met held an open round-table with a handful of broadband experts in Mountain Iron – about 25 people showed up to participate. The conversation wasn’t shocking but important. It’s always good to hear from folks on the wrong side of the front-lines. Senator Smith noted that broadband is absolutely necessary for 21st century economy.
Attendees talked about what a difference broadband could make to small businesses, home-based businesses, education and recruitment. One attendee said that he sits in the parking lot of Gilbert City Hall to upload his videos, which get millions of views. Another noted that the schools had a one (iPad) one students policy but that it felt discriminatory to the kids who don’t have broadband at home and those kids might live just a mile or two out of town.
The meeting was held at the Northeast Service Cooperative – home to middle mile fiber for the region. There’s hope and frustration with being so close and yet so far away to having fiber to the home. The communities are trying to find ways to get last mile providers into the market. There’s also frustration with the belief that some of these areas have service, when in practice people say they don’t have the broadband they need.
There is a need for public funding for broadband – in partnership with private investment. An announcement is expected (Monday) on federal infrastructure funding; people are cautiously optimistic. Funding is helpful but there is concern about the details. For example, a tiered service with different speeds for rural vs urban areas is not acceptable. There were suggestions to make sure that federal money is spent on networks that are built for the future and on streamlining process (quicker permitting and Dig Once policies) that would speed builds and encourage builds that serve entire areas – not just towns, leaving the outskirts unserved.
Affordability was emphasized, especially in terms of added costs such as data caps.
Mostly it was amazing on a cold Saturday with just a few days’ notice to have a full room people excited to talk about broadband.