If a community wants growth, high-speed internet is the key.
That was the message Friday at the Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce Community Luncheon. Guest speaker Kathy Johnson, former director of the Alabama Broadband Initiative, spelled out several areas of need tied to reliable, high-speed internet service.
“We are seeing that people will not buy a home without broadband connectivity. Their kids have to be able to do homework, and everything is moving to digital,” Johnson said. “Students are learning differently and schools are putting more and more of their work online.”
She also noted that where connectivity is low, school dropout rates are higher, along with teen pregnancy rates and general health care quality.
“Greater connectivity can improve rural health care,” she said. “It’s also affecting farming, where irrigation systems and other factors are tied to the internet.”
On the topic of economic development, Johnson said maps showing low and high internet availability also paint a picture of where jobs are locating.
“Everything we do today is impacted by high-speed internet. If you want economic development, it’s not going to happen without fiber connectivity,” she said. “If we can run fiber optics under the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, then I believe we can do more in rural areas that need help.”
The technology needed by industries in today’s economy directs companies to locate and expand in areas that have the type of high-speed internet that has a positive impact on production, education, health and other parts of community life.
“That’s what they are looking for, in their own needs and for the needs of their employees outside of work,” Johnson said. “It also affects small business at the retail level. You can’t run a credit card quickly and consistently without it.”
After several years of the state’s broadband development initiative, the program was disbanded by Alabama this month.
Nonetheless, Johnson said the needs identified by the initiative remain important, noting that nearly one million residents of the state do not have high-speed internet.
David Palmer may be contacted at 256-734-2131, ext. 116.