The current pandemic has revealed that high-speed internet access is no longer optional. It is a modern-day necessity. Just like running water and electricity were essential a century ago, today’s economy requires that all families and communities have reliable broadband access.
Students need to learn from home, adults and seniors need quick access to tele-health services, employees need to be able to work from home, and businesses need to be able to reach customers and markets, if we are going to keep our economy moving.
But, as we know, for far too many families and communities, the lack of reliable internet access is a daily reality that has turned into a crisis in the face of COVID-19.
Too many in Tennessee, and especially those in rural parts of our state, are falling way behind our urban and suburban communities in broadband access, speed, and reliability.
As additional investments are considered at the federal level, I hope Congress will expand broadband access where the needs are clearly the greatest.
Connecting rural homes and families will allow our students to have access to the same materials and distance learning opportunities that students in the urban areas have.
Connecting rural communities – who have lost local hospitals – will help local residents and seniors have access to the kinds of healthcare and telemedicine services that now require them to drive hours away.
Connecting rural businesses and farms will help them reach new markets and create new jobs, which can help address the economic needs of our most distressed counties and expand economic growth.
Congress must quickly work with state and local leaders, as well as the private sector, to expand broadband by supporting new infrastructure investments and increasing subsidies where needed.
It is estimated that 500,000 Tennesseans do not have fast or reliable enough internet access at home to support online learning. This disproportionately affects students in rural areas and low-income students in our urban centers
Our school districts and teachers have done their best with piecemeal solutions but they can’t do it on their own. It is up to us – employers and employees – to do what we can to ensure that students and their parents have internet access. Our current and future workforce depends on it.
Growing up in a small town in Western Tennessee, I’m very sensitive to the situation faced by our rural communities. Access to information via the internet is vital to the success of these communities who face multiple obstacles to the continued growth of their localities.
I’m fortunate to now live in the Nashville area where we take broadband for granted; however, it’s vitally important to the citizens in our small rural communities to have the same opportunity to access information as those in the metropolitan areas.
With the Senate likely to take up COVID-relief and infrastructure bills that include funding for expanding broadband access, I am encouraged by Senator Alexander’s leadership on this issue. He knows no student should lag behind their peers just because they lack internet access at home or are trying to do their homework on a cell phone. He knows no community must be forced to forgo the telemedicine services they need – or the economic access businesses and workers require.
I hope he will continue to champion rapid and common sense investments in expanding broadband in Tennessee. It is time to make better use of all available resources, and to quickly put in place the federal investments needed in both wired and wireless broadband infrastructure.
Having broadband internet access is no longer optional. It has become a requirement for learning, for working, and for life.
A native of West Tennessee, Kelly McCreight is President and CEO of Hamilton-Ryker, and Board Chair of the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce.
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