The gap between rural and urban America is wider today than it has been at any other point in our nation’s history. Urban centers like the City of Atlanta are awash in new development, new businesses, new citizens, and new opportunities. Counties and communities without significant urban centers, however, often find themselves lacking basic resources and amenities that enhance and simplify life in major cities.
One such resources is access to broadband internet. Sixteen percent of Georgians don’t have access to high-speed internet access, which equates to about 1.65 million people. At a time when reliable internet access is essential for everything from applying to jobs to completing homework assignments to connecting with individuals outside of your neighborhood, the lack of high-speed internet access can mean the different between success and failure.
The internet has become a necessity of modern living, arguably as essential as electricity. The state of Georgia has a responsibility to connect those rural citizens in a meaningful way. One might argue that the government should not be responsible for such a massive undertaking – after all, is it not the place of business and the economy to determine if such an investment is worth it?
Perhaps – but imagine if government leaders had taken the same approach to electricity. Instead of expanding access to electricity with the Rural Electrification Act of 1936 with federal loans, leading to an improved quality of life for millions of Americans with relatively low investment, rural communities could have been left in the dark.
The country faces a similar choice today, and the state of Georgia would be wise to seize on the opportunity to revolutionize the rural way of life. There is no shortage of means to achieve this end – “TV white spaces” represents perhaps the most promising, low-cost option – but local and national leaders must still seize the opportunities presented. Large corporations are increasingly working to act in favor of the public good, be it for the purposes of altruism or good PR. Governmental bodies can use that to their advantage.
Rural America deserves better than they are getting. In many ways, these people have been left behind. Jobs remain scarce and progress remains slow. Bringing high-speed internet to those communities would be a good start to revitalization. With all the information and technology at our fingertips, no one should be left behind.
Tharon Johnson is a consultant with Paramount Consulting Group and a Democrat strategist.