There’s a growing economic divide in North Carolina between metro and rural regions of the state. One of the fastest growing divisions is access to high-speed Internet.
Headlines blare of Google Fiber and AT&T Giga-Bit service coming to Raleigh and Charlotte. Meanwhile, in rural regions of the state, too many businesses, school systems, local governments and consumers are still using dial-up service to access the World Wide Web.
Today, the Internet as an infrastructure is just as important as a four-lane highway and adequate water and sewer services. When businesses look to locate new facilities or expand operations, one of their top requests is access to the information highway through high-speed Internet services.
The reality is the telecom industry is moving to install fiber-optic cable with ultra-high speed Internet in our urban centers, while rural regions of the state are trying to figure out how to get better Internet service altogether.
When local governments take action, like the city of Wilson with their Greenlight Project, the telecoms immediately pounce to shut out competition. The Wilson Greenlight Project has been litigated, legislated and ended up before the Federal Communications Commission. The bottom line from the Wilson project was that fiber-optic cable provided high-speed Internet to their primary businesses protecting needed jobs in the banking and pharmaceutical industries located there.
If there is opposition to having local governments go it alone, we have to find a better way to provide high speed Internet services for rural regions of the state.
First, there has to be a working partnership between county and local governments with the telecom service providers. The federal and state governments also should play a role in helping fund the capital investments for fiber-optic cable and broadband services.
At the federal level, rules written in the 1990s that enable incumbent carriers to use their dominance to inhibit competition should be updated. The Federal Communication’s Commission (FCC) has collected data on the so-called “special access” market to see where competition exists for access to networks. Where there is a lack of choice for access providers, the FCC needs to enact rules to promote competition for broadband providers.
At the state and local levels, our municipal and county officials need to work with the telecom service providers to develop realistic plans for improved high-speed Internet service. We need to view high-speed Internet service just like we see transportation and water-sewer when we’re talking about infrastructure investments.
A public/private partnership will incentivize the telecom industry to make the capital investments to improve high-speed Internet service. Consumers, business, industry, and government will all benefit by extending high-speed Internet service.
Every single community, county, city, town and crossroads in North Carolina should have access to high-speed Internet. The digital world is going to drive our state’s economy in the future. We cannot afford to leave huge chunks of the state without access. It’s an investment in our state’s economic future and it’s time to get to work making it happen.
Erica Smith-Ingram is a Democratic state Senator serving her first term representing District 3, which consists of Bertie, Chowan, Edgecombe, Hertford, Martin, Northampton, Tyrrell and Washington counties. She is an ordained minister and former materials engineer and high school math and science teacher.