The World is Fast: Small-Town America Must Speed Up

Date Written by Jason Keeling on June 23, 2016

Segments of Appalachia are at the forefront of economic crisis. Further commitment to broadband infrastructure and technology adoption could enable needed diversification.

Information technology and exchange are leveling the playing field across the global economy. Areas traditionally isolated are now able to become competitive, Thomas Friedman contends in The World is Flat.

The primary engine that enables participation in the present Digital Age is internet connectivity. And the fastest, most reliable form of such comes from wired broadband infrastructure.

A large percentage of the United States is well connected, operating at speeds that allow for extremely efficient data transfer and full participation in the information economy. But much of rural America remains under served.

People who have fast, reliable and affordable access to the internet possess immediate economic, educational and civic advantages over those who do not, hence the term “digital divide.”

Since Friedman’s work was published in 2005, the Federal Communications Commission has redefined broadband data speeds as 25 megabits per second download / 3 Mbps upload, an increase from its previous 4 Mbps download / 1 Mbps upload standard.

However, the most competitive technology locations are operating at speeds almost 1,000 times faster than the above FCC definition, running on fiber-optic connections that facilitate gigabit download and upload speeds. For a simple test of your own connection, visit www.fast.com or www.speedtest.net.

So in this Digital Age, the world is not only flat, but the world is fast.

Quality internet access is no longer a luxury, it is central to modern commerce and life. It is a necessity equally important as electricity, water and natural gas. Think of it as the “fourth utility,” which can enable remote telework, distance learning, telehealth and numerous other advantages that go far beyond streaming Netflix.

Responsive Countryside: The Digital Age and Rural Communities, by Roberto Gallardo, Ph.D., accounts the challenges faced by small localities. He also exhibits the promise displayed by small-sized “intelligent communities.”

In a recent TEDx Talk, Gallardo defines such towns as those that “through crisis or foresight, have come to understand the challenges of the digital economy and taken conscious steps to prosper in it.”

These communities are working to obtain not only globally competitive connectivity, but they are also dedicating strategic effort to facilitate adoption of such technologies.

Within this puzzle lies an opportunity to answer an age-old question in many regions: How do we retain youth?

As Millennials assume the workforce’s majority and Boomers gradually exit, these two generations, while separated by age, technical proficiency and political influence, are united by their interest to create a better tomorrow.

This requires those in power to acknowledge the information economy and recognize its potential. They should listen to the needs of Millennials (and GenX) to create jobs and facilitate technology adoption. And they must take calculated steps to ensure investment and resource dedication to the effort.

Fortunately corporate and private companies have been creating lanes to move the information super highway. But the traffic rate is increasing exponentially, sufficient access limitations remain for many, and there is much more infrastructure to complete.

Across the country, some proactive state and local policymakers have worked to establish open-access networks and public-private partnerships. Many of these ventures are happening in places far from Silicon Valley; communities like McKee, Ky., Huntsville, Ala., Wilson, N.C. and Ammon, Idaho.

In small-towns and more rural states across America, there is a choice to be made. Do we join the global economy or sit on the sidelines pining about the way things used to be? It’s time to look at the facts and decide, because populations across the world are moving on, fast.

- Keeling is a public relations and communications professional. For further updates see www.twitter.com/jasonkeeling. This column first appeared in the Daily Mail Opinion page of the Charleston Gazette-Mail.

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