Why this is Important
Broadband allows Gen Z access to distance education, the opportunity to set up entrepreneurial enterprises that can compete alongside large businesses and a way for friends and families to stay in touch with one another. It has become a basic amenity that is needed for work, life and leisure activities. In late 2010, the e-North Carolina Authority conducted a comprehensive study of residents and business in NC that use the internet. hey found that nearly one in five new jobs was created because of the internet, and more than half of all businesses depend on the internet for day-to-day work. Broadband attracts and sustains businesses in communities, improving their productivity and enabling them to compete in larger markets.
The digital divide truly splits our country in terms of internet access. Many places, particularly those in more rural areas, have difficulty justifying access to high-speed internet due to an insufficient local market. Some of these places simply wait for the market to grow, but other places, such as the rural town of Tryon, North Carolina, decided to take matters into their own hands. Initiated by the federal grants to support broadband access, Tryon received nearly $400,000 in grant money to develop its own fiber optic network, PANGAEA. Subscribing to the network is roughly the same cost as access to DSL, and Polk County Schools technology director David Sherping estimates that the school saves nearly $2,000 a month, or the equivalent of an entire teacher’s salary each year. In fact, the program has been so successful that $1,040,000 in grant money was given to e-Polk, the nonprofit in charge of maintaining PANGAEA, to link Rutherford county to the network.
Current Context in NC
North Carolina consists of 100 counties, 85 of which are rural. Not every household in all these rural communities has access to the internet, but all school districts have internet access within the buildings. At the end of 2007, 83 percent of the households in North Carolina had the ability to access high-speed Internet. In 2010, North Carolina was awarded $6.6 million in federal funding (through the stimulus package) to support broadband mapping, planning adoption and use across the state. e-North Carolina Authority mapped broadband availability throughout the state and developed plans for deploying high-speed Internet.
While some have embraced the idea of universal broadband access for every person in the state regardless of location, others believe money may be better spent providing better and faster access to areas that use it more. It’s extremely expensive to lay the infrastructure to provide average access, and without a large population to spread those capital costs, it becomes unprofitable for the private sector. Others have argued to provide increased speed to the creative and knowledge workers in the urban areas, especially around university towns. An organization called Gig U is touting the benefits of extremely high speed internet access, and research universities such as Duke, UNC Chapel Hill and NC State University have signed on as partners. This encourages creativity and fosters innovation in places where the internet is heavily used. While this faster access highly benefits these urban areas, it further displaces resources that could potentially give any access for those in rural areas.
For reasons of access, speed, or cost of private service, some municipalities in North Carolina decided to go into business for themselves, such as Tryon, N.C.
However, now, many states, including North Carolina, have passed legislation, preventing municipal governments from financing the infrastructure themselves so that prices can remain competitive. A thorough explanation behind the bill can be found here, and the record of its passage is here.