Millions of Americans across the United States lack access to internet. This gap in coverage, known as the “digital divide,” is devastating for residents and businesses in affected communities, many of whom have been left behind as the internet has become an essential utility over the last 20 years. Often considered a rural issue, the digital divide exists in communities of all sizes.
At Mission Broadband, we believe that access to broadband shapes the future of every American. We’re an independent, Maine-based consulting firm committed to bringing equitable broadband access to all by helping communities access funding to build networks through public-private partnerships.
While we don’t build networks ourselves, our vendor-neutral approach gives our clients the tools and information needed to make sound decisions around broadband infrastructure.
The urgent need to bring broadband access to every American has become undeniable during the pandemic. High-speed internet is no longer a luxury – it is a vital utility for economic development, education, and health care.
Both federal and state lawmakers have recognized this, and as a result, millions of dollars are set to be funneled to local communities to address the issue in the coming months. But funding is only one step towards closing the broadband gap. Local governments and supporting community members still need to generate public support for the project among constituents, which can be an unexpected challenge.
Although many people want and understand the need for broadband expansion, there are still a surprising number who remain skeptical, even as the pandemic has exposed its importance. In Mission Broadband’s work to bring equitable access to communities across New England, we have encountered questions from more than a few residents, who are hesitant about broadband.
Some have concerns about how the costs will impact them personally, like tax increases. Others might not see the need for internet because they have never had it and might not understand how to use it. And in some cases, people appreciate the lack of connectivity and solitude that accompanies living off the grid in a rural area. This skepticism can derail broadband expansion projects from coming to fruition when funding ends up on the ballot. To access grant money, local governments often need to match at least a portion of public funding, either through a bond issue or by reallocating revenue. Just like any bond, candidate, or referendum, passage depends on educating voters, building support, and driving turnout.
To ensure that broadband expansion receives wide support, towns and coalitions should spend time educating their communities on the benefits of broadband, as well as evaluating and targeting community-specific broadband requirements. Education and public outreach are foundational in this effort. Local governments, broadband committees, and others who are passionate about broadband can engage in a conversation with constituents and neighbors, respectfully listen to their concerns, and help them throughout the process – conveying just how much a broadband expansion project could make a positive impact.
For more information about building broadband support in your community, please email JohnDougherty@missionbroadband.com