Without a doubt, times have changed. Time was when access to the internet was considered a luxury - even a novelty – but those days are long gone. Today, fast, reliable and affordable access to the internet is as much a necessity as electricity. And the digital revolution touches all aspects of our lives – from our children needing access to do their homework, to businesses requiring a connection to serve their customers and everybody’s need to stay connected with friends and family.
But especially in rural parts of our state, far too many still don’t have the access to the internet that they need. There are at least 34,000 households in Vermont without access to a wired connection that can deliver even very low download speeds. And another 8,000 Vermonters don't have any wired internet providers at all where they live.
A fast, affordable and reliable connection to the internet is needed to allow rural areas to grow economically and help residents - especially older populations - avoid social isolation and live more productive, independent, and healthy lives. And as director of Vermont’s AARP I regularly hear from people across the state who can’t stay connected to family, access valuable information or even get emails.
This is despite knowing that affordable and reliable internet service helps older adults age in place productively and safely with access to telemedicine, civic engagement, and friends and family – not to mention entertainment, on-line learning and other internet-based applications providing social interaction and help with health challenges.
Affordable and reliable internet service also enables people to work from home and avoid a commute - or operate a home-based business. As mobility declines with age or infirmity, access to these functions from the home is critical.
State government leaders have cited broadband access as a high priority and there’s a telecommunications bill under consideration in the Statehouse now that many regulators, advocates and town officials across Vermont have gotten on board to support. They recognize the social and educational advantages it offers, as well as the significant economic development opportunities for our state.
Connecting all Vermonters will benefit us all.