“People in Indiana may want Netflix, but do they need it?” That question was offered during a 2018 discussion on the expansion of broadband across Indiana. While I wholeheartedly disagreed with the statement at the time, it wasn’t surprising. But can you imagine making that comment today?
Think about all the things you do with internet access: catch up on the latest news, send emails for work, help your kids with e-learning, watch your favorite sports team, read books, search for information on your phone. The internet has become ingrained in many facets of our everyday life, especially post-pandemic. Quality broadband is no longer a want; it’s a need.
For some Hoosiers there is no reliable internet access. If we want to continue to make Indiana a great place to work, live, and play, we must start viewing broadband as a necessity. We must invest in broadband expansion and end the days when parents are driving to local restaurants so their child can connect to Wi-Fi to do schoolwork.
A reliable broadband infrastructure is essential for communities to compete for talent and business. Your community may have great roads and shovel-ready locations, but if a CEO’s phone can’t connect to the internet, why would they invest in the community? Having access to quality internet should be seen the same as roads, trash pickup, and other types of infrastructure we expect on a day-to-day basis.
Unfortunately, investing in broadband isn’t putting you ahead in the game; it’s more than likely only leveling the playing field. People now expect to have good broadband access in the same way they expect to have good roads. Imagine telling a generation that has grown up using digital devices that they can’t access YouTube. Or imagine a local CEO asking his kids to turn off their Wi-Fi so he can have a virtual business call while the kids are on summer break. These aren’t just made-up scenarios. These are real stories that we’ve heard from Indiana communities.
Most people don’t object to expanding broadband. The issue is who pays for it. Internet service providers don’t have the financial incentive to expand the networks or access themselves, especially into more rural communities. Because broadband is so closely linked to overall economic vitality, governments have been stepping in.
Governments have a lot to gain from expanding broadband, but no one gains more than residents, businesses, and other stakeholders. That’s why the best approach is a collaborative one. Counties are big and have multiple groups working with providers. The school system may pick one provider, a healthcare provider another, and then the government may have different plans. Communities have to work together to find the best choice for everyone.
Keeping residents involved in the process is also key. Laying fiber or identifying areas that are unserved or underserved may take time, but taking time and positioning yourself for the best investment will pay huge dividends.
Next time a business or family is looking to relocate to Indiana, I want them to show up to your county, city, or town and know that the last thing they have to worry about is reliable broadband. After they spend time in the community or meet with elected officials, they should be able to go back to their hotel room and fire up Netflix – not because it’s a want or even a need but because they can.
Luke Bosso is managing director of government advisory with Katz, Sapper & Miller. He is a Franklin College alumni and former chief of staff for the Indiana Economic Development Corporation.