In the United States, one of the wealthiest countries on the planet, some 24 million people have no broadband coverage. An issue that, in the circus surrounding net neutrality, is completely buried. It may not be a ’’sexy” topic or simply just a critical quality of life issue, but for these 24 million folks, the economic advantages that come from high-speed internet are just a pipe-dream.
The millions left behind
In a time when politics is more divisive than ever, basic issues such as access to the internet are being overshadowed by the ideological clashes happening across the country. Say what you will about net neutrality, it was always more about partisan ideological differences than an open, free Internet, in my opinion. But if you look at this from an economic point of view - where each political party wants to hold the high ground- how many more jobs would an improved internet access provide? How many more points would it add to the GDP numbers? Now, those are high-profile issues!
Has the issue been lost?
The airwaves are clogged with personality issues regarding politicians or other hot-button issues. Susan Boser, the Democratic candidate seeking to replace Republican House Member Glenn Thompson in Pennsylvania recently said:
"If you were to ask people what issues they’re voting on, first and foremost they would say ‘pro-Trump or anti-Trump. Next would be guns and abortion, then the needs of the area, which are jobs and the opioid epidemic."
So, in other words, internet access is buried amid the narratives pushed by the mainstream media- particularly on the media operating on each coast of the U.S.
Where are the elected officials?
It is said that all politics is local. If that is so, this should be an important topic on candidate’s agendas as the mid-term elections are being contested this fall. Not so. Christopher Mitchell, the director of Community Broadband Networks for the Institute for Local Self-Reliance offered this explanation:
"I am afraid that it is mostly talk (for politicians). Even those that may intend to do something about it will run into the powerful cable and telephone lobbyists and then have to make a hard decision: are they more afraid of their constituents or the cable and telephone companies? Historically, most have quietly sided with the cable and telephone monopolies and we are hard-pressed to name a single rural elected official that has lost his or her job because they made that choice."
Politicians of both parties seemingly don’t have the pulse of their constituents or are deaf to their desire for better broadband coverage. They are doing so at their peril during an election season like this one where local politics should dominate House races.
The tide may be turning
"When I talk about the needs of the area, I’m focused on (the) local economy and the first solution is broadband. Everybody’s head is nodding; I’m getting very, very strong support for it. I had one woman come up to me after a town hall and say, ‘You had me at broadband.’"
Maybe in all the bad news surrounding net neutrality, there is a small ray of hope. After all, wasn’t it the mantra of the politicians that waged war against net neutrality that it stymied investment by the broadband companies?
To solve this problem and level the playing field for these millions of Americans, there is going to need to be a massive investment in infrastructure. Private companies cannot overcome the problem alone. It’s going to take politicians and local officials to do their part on behalf of their constituents.
We’ll be watching to hold their feet to the fire. It is up to us to mobilize voters and remind them of the connection between the ballot box and their Wi-Fi connection.