Guest Column — Expanding access to high-speed Internet will aid economic opportunity
Applying for a job, or recruiting talented employees for your business. Taking a college course. Reading a book. Helping your kids with math homework.
More and more, these are tasks that Delawareans are completing online — to further their education, acquire new skills and compete in an economy that is evolving every day.
My most important job as governor is to make sure that Delaware has a strong, growing and competitive economy. That’s why it’s so important for us to expand access to high-speed broadband service across our state — especially in areas where service is spotty or unavailable today.
Over the next two years, working with partners in the private sector, we plan to eliminate broadband deserts and ensure that every Delaware citizen and business has access to high-speed broadband service.
Delaware has consistently been recognized for having among the fastest internet speeds in the country. Ensuring reliable access to the internet for even more Delawareans will help prepare our young people for the economy of the future, and it will help our existing workforce do their jobs even better.
Recently, during a tour of Delaware Electric Cooperative in Greenwood, we saw how important broadband access is to the delivery of electricity across Kent and Sussex counties.
One night at 11 p.m., Josh Wharton, a Delaware Electric Cooperative operations supervisor, received a call about a fire on another company’s power line. The company asked Josh to redirect power to 5,000 customers before their service was impacted. From his home in Gumboro, Josh used an iPad to keep the lights on for 5,000 Delawareans. How was that possible? A high-speed, remote internet connection.
Businesses need to reach their customers, and so they set up shop in locations that enable them to communicate efficiently. High-speed broadband is critical for companies of all sizes, and it’s why we’re working to ensure businesses have access to quality internet service statewide.
We also heard from R.C. and Brent Willin of Willin Farms on how their fifth-generation family farm uses the internet to make adjustments to planting, monitor equipment and manage business operations.
We want all of Delaware’s farms to have access to this type of technology. Expanding access to high-speed broadband is essential for Delaware’s agriculture sector to remain competitive.
Here’s how we plan to expand high-speed broadband access in Delaware:
• In August, we will release a request for proposals (RFP) to improve broadband availability in rural areas throughout Delaware by creating opportunity for the private sector to develop and offer that service wirelessly.
Through this RFP and subsequent partnerships, the State will enable wireless service to homes and businesses where broadband service is not readily available, particularly in rural Kent and Sussex counties.
• Delaware will find ways to lower the cost of internet service for lower-income families. If we want all Delaware families to have a shot at success, they need to be able to apply for a job and complete homework assignments — tasks that become incredibly complicated without access to the internet.
• We’ll make it more attractive for private-sector internet service providers to bring wireless coverage to Delaware by subsidizing capital costs through a rural broadband grant program, making it possible for providers to invest and develop in rural areas.
This is about increasing opportunity for all Delawareans — and making sure that no one in our state is left behind because they don’t have adequate access to technology.
We are building on earlier work across our state that has achieved results. Delaware has worked diligently to expand broadband access across the state for several years. Delaware Chief Information Officer James Collins has worked with school district leaders to upgrade digital infrastructure and dramatically increase internet speeds in 48 schools statewide — many in areas that are under-served.
As part of an initiative through the Delaware Department of Technology and Information, a company called Bloosurf launched a pilot project in the City of Seaford that offered free internet service to customers within 8 miles of wireless access points throughout the city.
That helped Delawareans such as Kim Hopkins, a Seaford teacher, who previously had trouble grading papers, preparing lesson plans and helping her children with their homework because of a slow, spotty internet connection.
The State of Delaware made an initial public investment in increasing our digital infrastructure, which has led to more than $30 million in private investment. As a result, we have 700 miles of fiber broadband lines bringing high-speed internet to homes, businesses and schools statewide.
Delaware’s broadband “backbone” features high-capacity fiber-optic lines that run the length of the state from Wilmington to Georgetown, and from Seaford to Lewes, improving internet reliability for consumers and increasing internet access speeds by as much as 10 times since 2009.
Thanks in large part to these efforts, Delaware continuously ranks at, or near, the top of broadband speed rankings across the nation. Yet, we still face the same challenges as many other states when it comes to access and affordability, especially in our rural areas where broadband deserts still exist.
Over the next two years, we will directly confront this issue, eliminate those deserts and make high-speed internet a reality for all Delawareans. That will help all Delawareans connect and compete in a new economy, and improve economic opportunity across our state.
By Gov. John Carney
State of Delaware