The early part of the 20th century saw many homes in the United States not wired for electricity. This was particularly true of rural areas. The Great Depression brought the creation of the Tennessee Valley Authority, which extended electricity to poor and remote areas of Appalachia.
The early part of this century brings a disparity of another vital utility — broadband Internet. Hundreds of thousands of households and businesses in this country lack access to a reliable high-speed Internet connection. This once again threatens to put areas of this country at a distinct disadvantage.
Broadband connectivity is essential to lure both businesses and new residents to a community. Without it, many of the new tech generation will go elsewhere.
And make no mistake about it — broadband connectivity is more than an amenity. It is fast becoming essential in a culture where people work, socialize and play on laptop computers and smartphones.
As we noted in this space a while back, it was access to convenient parking that drove business development in the downtown area decades ago. In the coming years it will be access to wi-fi, broadband and other amenities of the digital age that will determine the fate of a city’s downtown.
Elected officials must do a better job of deciding which projects should go to the top of the list and how they will be paid for. And politicians have to do a better job of making the case for these infrastructure improvements to taxpayers who feel they are already being asked to do too much.
A report from the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations in 2011 noted Tennessee needs to spend $37.3 billion to address the state’s basic infrastructure needs. Broadband connectivity needs to be on that list.
It’s time for public officials to begin serious planning and prioritizing for the future. Failure to do so will leave the next generation of Americans without the digital tools it will need to compete in the global economy.