Chapel Hill: Opinion

April 11, 2014

Margot Lester: We should welcome Google’s High-Speed Broadband

I’m not revealing any state secrets when I say that our future success as a region depends on fast and affordable Internet access.

I’m not revealing any state secrets when I say that our future success as a region depends on fast and affordable Internet access.

We’re doing pretty well on the first part. Most of us have fast-enough Internet right now, but demand for bandwidth is increasing rapidly, and performance issues are already appearing. We’re doing pretty poorly on the affordable part, though.

Even with the bundling deals, most of us still pay too much. And did you see the recent headlines about providers charging more for certain kinds of content like movies? Finally there’s the ugly truth that even here in the awesome Triangle, there are people who can’t access the web either because it’s too pricey or it doesn’t reach them. So we need more, better and cheaper.

That’s why fast, reliable and affordable access to high-speed broadband is important for the Triangle.

Cost-effective broadband is essential to retaining our reputation as a technology hub and growing our local economies. Fiber enables the businesses we already have to operate more efficiently and grow. It also helps us support and recruit new entrepreneurs and enterprises that create jobs and increase the commercial tax base.

As the use of technology in education increases, demand for access increases, too. We can’t afford down time in the classroom any more than we can afford it in the boardroom. A reliable, affordable high-speed fiber network ensures that the power of the Internet is available to every student and teacher when they need it. Learning shouldn’t be made to wait.

And then there’s the issue of digital inclusion. We want an informed and engaged citizenry, and increasingly that requires resources available via the Internet and access that doesn’t break the bank. Food clothing and shelter have long been our most basic needs. Today, we have to add the Internet to that list. And in a region like ours, it’s a shame that we still have citizens for whom reliable, high-speed service isn’t affordable, or even available. Let’s fix that.

If I haven’t convinced you yet, consider this startling statistic. An annual report from Akamai, an Internet content delivery network, ranks the U.S. ninth in the world in broadband speeds. You have to admit, that’s kind of embarrassing. It’s hard to lead the world when you’re falling behind on the Internet.

Google’s plans to build a fiber network may rankle some as a ploy by another big business. But the truth is we need this, and our local communities and service providers haven’t yet found a way to do it. So why not work with Google to see if it’s possible?

Initiatives like Google Fiber have the potential to help us create economic opportunity, improve education and provide access to underserved communities. Let’s listen objectively to what they’re proposing, make reasonable requests and get a deal done that benefits our communities.

Margot Carmichael Lester is a Carrboro-based business owner and former chairwoman of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce’s Economic Development and Public Policy Committee.

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