An op-ed written by Katie Kienbaum, Research Associate at ILSR, was published by the Jacksonville Daily News. It discusses the need for better broadband access in North Carolina, and the upcoming series of community meetings on the subject organized by NC Broadband Matters, the NC League of Municipalities, and the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Find the full piece below:
When you think about the Internet, what comes to mind might have a lot to do with where you live.
For North Carolinians with good connectivity, the Internet signifies endless opportunity and access to information. But if you live in an area with limited broadband availability or high subscription costs, you may feel more frustrated than excited.
Broadband in North Carolina is a patchwork quilt of quality and availability. In the big metro regions, some neighborhoods are getting high-speed fiber networks from major companies like AT&T and Google. Other communities have partnered with new providers, such as Ting and Open Broadband, to improve local Internet access. And in Wilson, the city built its own fiber optic network, delivering the fastest speeds in the state, attracting new business, and offering affordable access to public housing units.
Even some rural communities have access to the highest-quality connectivity. Cooperatives like Wilkes Communications and RiverStreet Networks are building first-rate broadband networks that will help improve the quality of life for their rural members. In each case, community members worked together to encourage investment in better options.
But many communities are stuck waiting for new investment. Wired broadband is unavailable to at least 500,000 North Carolinians, according to BroadbandNow’s analysis of federal data, while nearly one million others only have access to broadband through a single monopoly provider. Families in these under-connected and often rural communities struggle with everyday tasks, such as completing homework assignments, filling out job applications, and accessing online healthcare.
State policy needs to recognize these shortcomings and better enable investment in local networks. Still, there are ways for communities to take action. With the combined efforts of elected officials, local leaders, rural cooperatives, Internet service providers, and engaged residents, communities throughout the state can make sure they aren’t left behind in an increasingly connected world.
To start the conversation on improving local Internet access, NC Broadband Matters, the NC League of Municipalities, and the Institute for Local Self-Reliance have organized a series of community meetings called Let’s Connect. The events will feature discussions with local and national experts, elected officials, and community leaders on potential strategies to improve broadband access. They will also provide the opportunity for interested community members to share their stories and network with each other.
A Let’s Connect community meeting will be held in Jacksonville on January 30 at 6:00 p.m. in the Youth Council Youth Center. More information is available online at bit.ly/LetsConnectNC.
There’s a way forward for communities with poor connectivity, but we need everyone at the table to make it happen.
Katie Kienbaum is a Research Associate with the Community Broadband Networks Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. She researches and writes about rural Internet access