You might remember my op‐ed from last February on just how critical rural broadband is to our community and communities like ours. You might also recall me driving the issue home with what that means for our quality of life. I wish I could tell you that much has changed over almost half a year.
While we have made some incremental progress laying the foundation for better broadband infrastructure, the landscape of what we have available to us remains largely the same. We still have trouble attracting new businesses and relocating employers. At Arizona Regional Economic Development Foundation, we are working tirelessly to bring jobs here. Sometimes despite our best efforts to help businesses understand all that our area has to offer, companies choose to go elsewhere. While the reasons differ in each case, two reasons stand out as the common thread – access to quality health care and broadband.
They might sound like two distinct issues. The reality is that this boils downs to one: broadband. Reliable broadband solves so many problems – among them, access to health care. We all know the difficulty we face accessing health care and how this sometimes means longer waits and driving for hours to see specialists. An effective telehealth system is not just a quality‐of‐life issue, it is a matter of life or death.
Our elected officials in Congress need to hear from you. They need to know that you care about this, and so do the candidates running for office. They need to know that securing access to quality broadband is something that you care about. More specifically, our elected officials need to make sure that money allocated to this actually makes it back to us.
To close the digital divide and bring everyone online as fast as possible, Congress should prioritize expanding existing broadband infrastructure to communities without any access and allow investment in all available technologies to do it – fiber, 5G wireless and cable. Broadband connectivity is a particular problem in rural communities where folks are 10 times more likely to lack access to broadband infrastructure. That is because it’s costly to build new infrastructure in truly remote areas. Despite nearly $2 trillion in private investment from internet service providers over the past 25 years, too many rural communities still lack access. In short, building in rural areas is costly and takes time. That is why we need to prioritize utilizing limited federal dollars to target unconnected communities with all available technologies. We have waited long enough. The time is now! I urge you to join me.
Mignonne Hollis is executive director of the Arizona Economic Development Foundation.