What should be a hot topic in the election? Broadband

The CJR (Columbia Journalism Review) invited writers to chime in on topics they thought should be getting more attention giving the upcoming midterm elections. Lyz Lenz, from Iowa, wrote about rural broadband

As of 2016, 39 percent of rural Americans lack access to high-speed broadband, compared to just four percent of urban Americans. Only 17 percent of rural Americans rely on their smartphones for internet, according to a PEW research poll. The internet that rural Americans do have is lower quality and more costly than it is for their urban counterparts. And all of this for a population that earns less than those in urban areas. To put this in perspective, rural America makes up 97 percent of America’s landscape and contains 19.3 percent of the population. The digital divide is compounded when you look at the difference in access on Tribal lands. The FCC reports that “63 percent of Americans living on Tribal lands (2.5 million people) lack access to high-speed broadband. And 85 percent of Americans living in rural areas around Tribal lands (1.7 million people) lack access.”

What’s at stake is more than just your grandma’s ability to access Facebook. “The cost of being disconnected is the highest it’s ever been,” says Tom Ferree, CEO of Connected Nation. “Connectivity means access to healthcare, education, job creation, and everything. Broadband has to be there to ensure the virility and sustainability of the community. Previously, the vitality of America was based on infrastructure—roads and highways. Now it’s broadband infrastructure. If people can’t access reliable internet in an affordable way, they will be relegated to industries that are stagnating. Or they will move.” Connectivity, Ferree adds, isn’t just for humans. The machines farmers use in the field to plant and harvest and monitor the crops all require connectivity. “This isn’t just about us,” says Ferree. “This is also about our food supply.”

Right now, Ferree states, “America is living with a caste system of digital inequality. And with the advent of 5G internet, the digital divide will only deepen if Iowa can’t catch up.” A report released last month by the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development calls broadband access as necessary for quality of life as “essential as water and electricity networks.”

This entry was posted in Elections by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

I have a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science. I have been interested or involved in providing access to information through the Internet since 1994, when I worked for Minnesota’s first Internet service provider. I am pleased to be a part of the Blandin on Broadband Team. I also work with MN Coalition on Government Information, Minnesota Rural Partners, and the American Society for Information Science and Technology.

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