There are so many reasons that Alabama can’t have nice things – like reliable, affordable broadband. In 2015, more than a third of the state had no access at all to broadband Internet, and the people left out are the ones who need it the most. In fact, Alabama’s broadband infrastructure has more in common with Bulgaria than our neighbor, Chattanooga.
In Alabama, broadband access could be a game-changer in many areas:
- Education: Right now, if you’re a student in a smaller, poorer school, it’s hard to take Advanced Placement classes, foreign languages, and higher level courses. Remote learning via a broadband connection could open up access to all students.
- Health care: Eight Alabama counties have no hospitals and people have to drive hours to see a specialist. Remember that we also have little or no public transportation options, so even getting to the doctor is a challenge. Telemedicine won’t fix that problem, but it would allow patients to talk with their doctors from home or from a local primary care clinic.
- Economic development: In the video below, candidate Will Boyd identifies broadband access as a crucial part of economic development in the Shoals area. Few companies are interested in locating in a region with no hospital and no broadband – no matter how many public money bribes we offer.
At LIA, we’ve followed broadband and public utilities issues closely for over 7 years. I was thrilled to get to ask all Democratic senate candidates about the issue at a recent candidate forum hosted by the Madison County Democratic Women.
This video clip contains the question and the response of each candidate:
Here’s the gist of each candidate’s response:
Vann Caldwell: It’s a fundamental Democratic principle to support infrastructure and economic development.
Will Boyd: The Chamber of Commerce in Lauderdale County has determined that the main issue in our city and our county is broadband. …. “Broadband is part of my jobs plan,” creating a grid where people can work and thrive. … “Many parts of Africa are more advanced than we are.”
Robert Kennedy, Jr: I’m not a “Republican plant” thrown in to try and hijack the primary. … “The establishment is scared to death of this candidacy.” … “Doug [Jones] talks about all the work he’s done with the Democratic Party over the past 30 years. How’s that worked out for ya?”
Michael Hansen: 2016 was about an urban/rural divide and we need to show that we care about people who live outside big cities. We do that by investing in their communities – things like broadband. We have to do that “not just because we want their votes but because it’s the right thing to do.”
Charles Nana: This is an investment in high-tech and we need to attract high-tech jobs. We need to invest in our children and build schools instead of prisons.
Doug Jones: Worked on the issue of broadband in Cullman during President Obama’s push to expand broadband. The problem with communities trying to offer public broadband is that “the big telecoms squash the little companies” that are offering alternatives. We need to get broadband into the schools without cost.
Jason Fisher: “This is a question of economic fairness and a question of equality.” Infrastructure that includes broadband in poorer communities gives those communities a chance to grow and improve.
You can watch this entire one-hour forum at the Madison County Democratic Women’s Facebook page.