Dear Supporters of Local Internet Choice:
In the wake of the election, our friend Mark Erickson of RS Fiber in Minnesota shared with us some of his thoughts about how, even in a partisan community in a partisan time, the issue of local broadband transcends partisanship. This is exactly what CLIC has been stressing for a long time – that communities have a huge stake in obtaining affordable access to advanced communications networks; that they should be free to do so in whatever way works for them; that this is not a partisan issue at the local level; and that this should not be a partisan issue at the federal or state level either.
Mark agreed to let us share his thoughts with all of you, and they follow this message. Please read and enjoy—and let’s all work for a better broadband future in this new political era.
Happy Veteran’s Day, from all of us at CLIC
In very rural Sibley county, in Minnesota, where I live, the vote was nearly 3 to 1 in favor of Donald Trump.
Our incumbent Republicans were re-elected with ease.
Yet in this very conservative county, 10 city councils and 17 of 21 rural townships have come together to support putting their tax dollars at risk to build a fiber optic network to everyone in those communities and to all area farms. (By means of an update, the four townships that voted not to participate in the project have indicated they might want back into the project.)
I don’t even find it ironic that in the middle of this Trump heartland the overwhelming majority of voters believe broadband is so important that it transcends local, state and national politics.
Why? Because they get it. They understand they will need bigger and better broadband to survive and grow.
And I suspect, from information I’ve gathered at national and regional conferences around the country the past several years, that the rest of “Donald Trump Heartland” feels the same way.
I believe the time is right to press the advantage for rural broadband efforts at the national and state levels.
I’m going to tell people when I’m in Washington later this month that Trump voters in my conservative county strongly support efforts by communities and government entities to grow fiber networks to their homes and farms.
I was in Maine two weeks ago talking to rural communities and counties about broadband. Rural Maine is much like rural Minnesota. They are conservative. They are suspicious of government. They tend to frown on government involvement in private sector affairs.
But broadband is a different issue. When folks in Maine understood how far behind they are, how bleak the prospects are for incumbents to make the necessary investments and how important it is they catch up . . . and catch up quickly, they looked to local governments for a possible solution.
In Maine, as in Minnesota, when people realized providers are unable to make the necessary investments in their communities, they began to advocate for solutions that involve local government.
Like rural voters across the nation, they understand the only real way to ensure timely (in their lifetime) access to ultra high speed broadband networks is to take the initiative and make something happen.
I am convinced that sentiment is common throughout under- and unserved rural America.
Let’s take the opportunity this sea change in national leadership presents and raise our voices even louder about the need for effective solutions to what I believe is a growing rural broadband crisis.
Let’s make the point very clearly that the people of rural America deserve and are beginning to demand access to fiber networks.
The issue of growing broadband networks and the need to collaborate and find common grounds to effectively solve this critically important issue, is at the top of my list because I truly believe that growing fiber networks will help this country grow and prosper for decades to come.
And, by the way, I don’t care who owns and operates them. If we can move the incumbents to action, everyone wins. If the only solution is a new cooperative or a municipal network, I’m on board because the results are the same. Just as long as the networks get built!
I tell legislators in Minnesota that every metric they are charged with monitoring can be made better, can be improved upon, if their constituents have access to ubiquitous ultra high speed symmetrical broadband networks. Health care. Education, Jobs. Manufacturing. Public Safety. Transportation. Senior Citizens. They will all benefit.
I believe the same is true at the federal level as well.
The politicians to whom I tell that usually get it. They understand the opportunity but they don’t know what to do to take advantage of the opportunity.
The fact is that fiber networks are transformative and rural America desperately needs and wants access to those networks.
We need to educate the incoming administration and the Republican Congress to that point so they can understand the consequences of not meeting the needs of the people who just put them in office—and that needs for advanced communications are central to the needs of rural America. Most importantly, this issue transcends party affiliation or partisanship, and should be recognized as what it is—a priority for action at the state, local, and federal levels.
Mark Erickson -Winthrop, MN Economic Development Authority and RS Fiber Cooperative