Across the country, millions of Americans still lack access to reliable high-speed broadband internet. This is a problem we are focused on highlighting and solving at SEDC, but despite an outpouring of public and federal attention and support for tackling this issue, the problem persists. Millions of dollars have been earmarked to combat the digital divide, which creates large disparities in economic, social, and educational outcomes between people with and without reliable internet access. While it’s true that government action at the federal level has the best chance of leveling the digital playing field between rural and urban areas, it is local community action that most frequently provides the push that gets the machinery of government into full swing.
SEDC is immensely proud of our partners, all of whom exemplify the spirit of community action. It is with that pride that we showcase our partners at Kit Carson Electric Cooperative in New Mexico, who partnered with local school districts to provide over 150 families across their service area with broadband access via free internet connections and routers bundled in a $24.95 monthly service. Kit Carson then went a step further, by distributing 22 wireless hotspots across high traffic public places throughout the area. These efforts were especially impactful due to the coronavirus pandemic, which closed schools and public resources, further aggravating a long-standing access and equity problem.
With the virus still a major factor in public life, these efforts by Kit Carson make a much more pronounced difference. Millions of children still have their educational futures in jeopardy, making programs like this an essential part of the community level contribution towards a national problem. Many of us in urban and more populated areas take our internet access for granted. We never consider the market forces that telecos consider before investing into the underground cable networks that make up our currently connected world possible. For those who live in areas where the money doesn’t add up, private companies see less value in the same investments.
Internet access can no longer be treated as a luxury service. In 2020 and beyond we should grow to see a person who is denied the ability to connect to the internet in the same light as people who are denied the ability to read. That is, of course, an overstatement. Human lives and interactions are not as totally tethered to the internet as they are to the written word as a whole, but with the exponential growth and adaption of technology into our everyday lives, I believe it would be best to change the way we perceive these things.
I would like for all of us to have the same access and equity in this world. That goal may seem lofty and impossible to some, but every once in awhile, a story like that of Kit Carson Internet reminds me that no matter what happens, people, at their core, take care of one another.