Herald-Whig View

High-speed internet is a necessity in the 21st century

Posted: Mar. 4, 2019 12:01 am Updated: Mar. 5, 2019 8:10 am

ANYBODY who has tried to access something online and watched a spinning circle as a computer, television or other device is buffering knows the frustration of sketchy download speeds.

The issue is more than frustrating for businesses or people working at home who find that poor internet speeds affect their finances.

The latest estimates from the Federal Communication Commission indicate that at least 23 million Americans have slow internet service or none at all -- and the actual numbers are probably much higher. In other words, many U.S. residents and businesses don't have reliable connections to everything from online education and health services to attracting business customers in the 21st century marketplace.

John Sullivan, acting director of the Illinois Department of Agriculture, wants to help eliminate this digital divide. He's proposing that if legislators pass a capital bill this year, there should be funding to help providers upgrade to high-speed internet.

"It's on everybody's radar downstate and in rural areas," Sullivan told The Herald-Whig.

In fact, when he went to Washington, D.C., last week to meet with leaders from other state agricultural departments, Sullivan learned it's a priority in most states.

There already is some federal money available for broadband internet projects. The U.S. Farm Bill includes $350 million for loans and grants, and that is supposed to be an annual allocation. In addition, the Department of Agriculture's Re-Connect program got $600 million early last year to help jump start a major infrastructure initiative.

Sullivan, who spent 14 years in the Illinois Senate from West-Central Illinois, knows those federal dollars help. But he said it helps when there's "skin in the game" from the local, state and federal levels.

The Illinois Commerce Commission has been asked to provide information on what internet speeds are available around the state. That would be a good starting point.

Similar mapping projects are underway at a national level, in part to debunk the cellphone coverage maps that make it look like nearly everyone has access to high-speed data and phone connections.

Internet service is not a fad that's going to disappear. It's a necessity for business, for entertainment and for quality of life.

Internet providers may be the local face of those seeking infrastructure upgrades, but it will take a state and federal buy-in to solve a nationwide problem.