Lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time in a bathroom. It’s not what you’re thinking.
I hang out in the basement bathroom of a Greensboro church for the fast internet. And I’m thankful for Spark, the new co-working space close to my house, for providing the space — now used just for calls — where I know I can participate in video conferences, a big part of my job.
There’s a tech company co-founder I know who takes turns with his wife uploading data files from their home office. A local librarian pays two service providers for when one inevitably goes out. A doctor has to rent a better-connected second office for telemedicine. The internet in most of the Northeast Kingdom, and other rural parts of Vermont, simply does not support modern life.
People patch it together. But we know it’s a drag on our economy and it drives young people away. If these weren’t big enough problems, there are more on the horizon.
Soon, fast, reliable and affordable internet will be like electricity — needed for basic safety and health. My new hot water heater lets me monitor its performance and change settings over Wifi. Renewing a driver’s license is much easier online. My doctor’s office encourages making appointments and requesting refills over the Web. Eventually, this will be the only way it’s done.
All Vermonters deserve access to this essential resource. And it’s clear by now that large communications companies won’t solve this for us. There’s not enough money to be made.
The big leaps in service lately have come from communities banding together or partnering with small providers. Craftsbury, where I live, just built its own 13-mile fiber network using federal grants. The percentage of buildings in town with access to true broadband speeds went from 8 percent to almost half.
The Vermont House overwhelmingly approved a bill in March to provide more funding for community-owned and public/private broadband projects like this one. But, with adjournment looming, it appears stuck in the Senate Finance committee. I hope Senate leaders understand how important this issue is to their rural constituents.
We can’t afford to wait another year – and I’d really like to get out of the bathroom.
A version of this commentary aired on VPR on 5/2/19, Listen here.