Jeff Coleman: Broadband access more important now than ever before
In a world of viruses that can shut down global economies, shutter schoolhouse doors, and even physically keep us separated from one another, broadband access to our rural communities must rise to the forefront of our priorities. In the past two months, we have seen how difficult everyday education, communication, and commerce can be without the ability to utilize high-speed internet. Every day, though, there are communities in rural Alabama who live this even without stay-at-home orders.
Broadband access will be the key to the success of our next generation of students and businesses. Our state is poised to be a leader in rural broadband expansion thanks to leaders such as Senator Clay Scofield and former State House Member, now Senator, Donnie Chesteen and many others.
Children should not be forced to complete their homework in their parent’s car in a church parking lot due to connectivity issues or speed-related problems. Doctors should not be forced to ask sick patients to repeatedly come into clinics because they cannot monitor their health remotely. Farmers should not be forced to use outdated equipment because the newest and most efficient equipment is too technologically advanced for our outdated infrastructure.
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly every educator has been forced to evolve their way of teaching. Nearly everything our children are learning from their teachers is coming via the internet. However, in many rural areas of our state, parents and students are being forced to go to a local church, government building, or drive miles away from home to find an area with Wi-Fi connectivity — or even worse spend hundreds of dollars a month on hotspot devices, all so homework can be completed.
Now more than ever, physicians are relying on in-home medical capabilities. With our hospitals being rightfully focused on patients affected by the Coronavirus, many doctors are utilizing remote methods for care, except in rural communities either underserved or unserved with broadband. Patients in rural areas affected by a mild illness are not able to utilize telehealth options because the video connection is weak and communication is nearly impossible. This forces patients to make the difficult and sometimes dangerous trek to a metro area to receive care for a mild illness, while possibly being exposed to an even more dangerous virus.
Farmers cannot be forgotten in this discussion either. We rely on farmers to provide the food that feeds the world, and fiber that clothes the world. Now, they are relying on us to bring the tools needed to increase efficiency and ability on their farms. The use of precision agricultural equipment, customer communications, monitoring global commodity markets, and even reading up on the latest regulatory burdens from over-bearing bureaucrats are all modes that require high-quality broadband. We rely on our farmers, and now they need us.
Industry leaders are waiting for Alabama to become the manufacturing and innovation hub of the south, but the common topic of discussion is access to high-quality broadband. A priority of mine in Congress will be to work with internet service providers, cooperatives, public utilities, state and local leaders, infrastructure leaders, and other stakeholders to bring accessible, affordable, and quality broadband to every corner of our state. We must tackle this issue head on; otherwise, we will be left behind economically and educationally.
Our teachers and students need broadband. Our farmers need broadband. Our physicians and patients need broadband. It’s time for the state of Alabama to bring many voices together to solve this issue. As the Congressman from Alabama’s Second Congressional District, this will be one of my top priorities.
President Donald J. Trump emphasized the importance of rural broadband access in his 2020 State of the Union Address. President Trump said, “I am also committed to ensuring that every citizen can have access to high-speed internet, including — and especially in — rural America.” I look forward to being a champion, fierce fighter, and a strong advocate for rural broadband access alongside President Trump.
Jeff Coleman is the CEO of Coleman Worldwide Moving. He is currently a Republican candidate vying to represent Alabama’s Second Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives