Help wanted in bringing broadband to rural communities

Published 11:00 am Thursday, March 16, 2023

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The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA) held a public Alabama Community Broadband Technical Assistance Program meeting for Butler County in Greenville March 7.

Beginning at 2 p.m., separate sessions for elected officials, internet service providers, government and community organizations, and citizens gave each group the opportunity to discuss broadband challenges, initiatives, and progress, highlighting what has been done, and what still needs doing so that ADECA can work to make grant funding available to fuel projects and provide stable, affordable broadband service at the fingertips to even the most rural residents.

Throughout the afternoon, stakeholders engaged in discussions and helped to identify Butler County’s broadband readiness. As part of the program, groups floated ideas on strategic development for broadband deployment and digital opportunity partnership.

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At 4:30 p.m., ADECA and Butler County officials scheduled time for government and community organizations to participate by communicating their needs and learning how to officially report those needs to state agencies evaluating possible grants for projects.

The session was canceled because no organizations came, which is unfortunate given the magnitude of what the Internet can provide to citizens in the county.

The last session, scheduled for 5:15 p.m., should have featured a time for public comments, with space for questions and answers so that residents could leave the table knowing when, or if, they could expect full access to broadband services.

Sadly, that session was canceled.

We, as citizens, expect access to basic community services and in America today, many people consider reliable internet service a necessity. To that end, citizens elect officials to represent their interests — town councils, county commissions, and mayors — and to advocate for them in gaining access to services like high-speed Internet.

When elected officials fail to represent and speak for constituents on important matters such as this, citizens can elect another who will do better for the next term. But a resident can, and should, take a more active role in the process by showing up at public meetings and letting their voice be heard.

ADECA’s March 7 meeting was just such an opportunity, with a unique session designed for the sole purpose of allowing citizens a place at the table and a voice in the discussion.

Unfortunately, the meeting was canceled, because no citizens came to participate.

Citizens and community organizations must do better. Failure to engage is a deterrent to progress. In fact, it sets back the conversation. 

It is not enough to say, “Something should be done.” Instead, let us ask, “How can I help?”

At the meeting, those who attended learned there is a way to put Butler County on the broadband road map. By visiting, residents, groups, and organizations can learn about broadband initiatives in the area and report that they need service. By doing so, residents can actively assist ADECA and other agencies to allocate grant funding for which government and community agencies or service providers can apply, to bring broadband to every stretch of road in even the most rural communities.

So, the question becomes, “Will we each do our part?”