Point of View

High-speed Internet in the economic driver’s seat

February 28, 2014 

We can all agree that technology is key to our economic growth and opportunity. But how we leverage today’s innovations for everyone’s benefit is a more complex question. Leveraging technology begins and ends with how we access it. Increasingly, that requires access to ultra high-speed broadband networks.

If we think about the on-ramps to the Internet as the on-ramps to the highways of information and innovation, it becomes clear that high-speed Internet will drive us toward our future.

Dial-up access to the Internet may might been sufficient in the 20th century, but today’s broadband infrastructure is a roadblock to growth and opportunity. And while so many communities across our country still struggle to move behind the slowest of speeds, the rest of the world isn’t waiting. Just look at the global rankings of broadband speed to see how the U.S. continues to fall. We, the nation that invented the Internet, now hold only the ninth-fastest average connection speed in the world. If we are serious about developing our economy, we have to be serious about developing high-speed broadband networks.

In the Triangle, we know this to be true. Google recently announced it is looking at the possibility of building a new ultra-high-speed network here, and we would all benefit from the advantages that a fiber network brings. Recent examples, not from Silicon Valley but from the American heartland, bear this out:

• In Tennessee, Chattanooga has revitalized its local economy with a successful city bond issue to invest in broadband infrastructure. The resulting access to high-speed broadband has helped the city entice large-scale companies like Amazon.com, Claris Networks and Volkswagen to locate in a once-struggling metropolitan area.

• In Ohio, a group of civic and business leaders united to found OneCommunity, a nonprofit organization focused on expanding high-speed broadband access throughout the northeastern part of the state. That was 10 years ago. Today, the region has become a hub for innovation, thanks to the ultra-high-speed fiber network OneCommunity and others advocated.

• And in Louisiana, health care leaders used the local fiber to the home network to create “Living Lab,” a community-scale testing platform that allows researchers to test solutions to health care challenges such as childhood obesity and the delivery of emergency medicine.

In each case, local leaders used their ability to quickly access and synthesize information to engage new businesses, create jobs and find solutions to challenging problems. And the economic impact of these innovations is long-lasting and cumulative: One success breeds another and another.

But none of this is possible without the ability to access on-ramps to the Internet at the speed of traffic in the 21st century. To survive in today’s three-dimensional world, we need three-dimensional solutions that are enabled only with high-speed broadband access.

Charles Hayes is president & CEO of the Research Triangle Regional Partnership.

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