One important lesson that has been learned over the past months when it comes to education is that without high-speed broadband, many children in rural America have once again been left behind.

Mark Wohlander

Mark Wohlander

Imagine for a moment that, because of COVID-19, your child lives in rural America, in a community where internet is either non-existent, or so intermittent that streaming the classroom into the home is what can best be described as impossible. And then, imagine the possibilities for those children, and others, if high-speed broadband was available for everyone.

It is time to end this disparity across rural America; it is time to provide high-speed broadband to every community, not just for our children, but for America’s entrepreneurs who will unleash the next generation of economic development necessary for all Americans to prosper.

Recently, the White House released a fact sheet entitled the American Jobs Plan. Most Americans will never take the time to read this lengthy document, especially those young Americans who do not have internet, let alone high-speed broadband. Buried in this lengthy document is a single sentence that deserves the support of all Americans — "(The American Jobs Plan) will bring affordable, reliable, high speed broadband to every American, including more than 35% of rural Americans who lack access to broadband at minimally acceptable speeds.”

If this single goal could be accomplished, then life in rural America and rural Kentucky could and would be changed forever. More importantly, the goal of affordable, reliable, high-speed broadband would also unleash untold economic development that can only be accomplished when businesses have access to high-speed access to the worldwide web.

The rhetorical question that needs to be answered is how can this goal be accomplished, especially in hard-to-reach mountain communities? At one time, that question would have been difficult to answer. Building the necessary infrastructure to carry the broadband system through the mountains of Eastern Kentucky would take years and the costs would be staggering. 

Somewhat ironically, the solution might just be found in the words of Alexander Graham Bell, who invented and patented the first telephone and co-founded American Telephone and Telegraph (AT&T), when he said, "When one door closes another door opens; but we so often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which open for us."

Maybe, just maybe, Bell had a crystal ball and knew that even from the early days of connecting with others through a telephone that it would be necessary to search for solutions as the nation’s phone service expanded. Today, there are those who have looked past the closed doors to the doors that have opened which can, and likely will, provide the infrastructure necessary to provide high-speed broadband to rural Kentucky and the mountains of Eastern Kentucky.

One solution is to utilize the existing infrastructure of rural Kentucky’s water pipes. Yes, think about it, although water pipes do not exist in every community in rural Kentucky, many rural areas are connected to water pipes, which could carry the broadband fiber optic cables to otherwise unserved areas of rural Kentucky.

Read the story of Anacortes, Washington, “the first city in North America to deliver high-speed internet through its sprawling system of water pipes. Fiber optics are fed into a tube that is then run through water lines.” This technology is available today for Kentucky’s rural counties through a small rural broadband provider.

Unfortunately, the real obstacle to providing high-speed broadband to rural America, rural Kentucky and the mountains of Eastern Kentucky is the political divide in the halls of Congress. With that said, maybe it is time to carve out the plan to provide high-speed broadband from the American Jobs Plan so the next generation will have access to high-speed broadband that will open doors for their education and the next generation of doctors, scientists, inventors and leaders who will be responsible to “Build, Back, Better” America’s communities from the east coast to the west coast and especially in rural America.

In the end, it is time for all Americans to let Congress know that all of America needs high-speed broadband today, not tomorrow, and it is time to set aside the politics and pass the legislation which will provide “affordable, reliable, high speed broadband to every American, including more than 35% of rural Americans who lack access to broadband at minimally acceptable speeds.”

Mark Wohlander, a military veteran, former FBI agent and federal prosecutor, practices law in Lexington and eastern Kentucky. His email address is fivesmoothstonesky@gmail.com.

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