A realistic roadmap to bring every Delawarean into the Information Age
You learn a lot about a place when you grow up there, go to school there, patrol it as a state trooper, and represent it in the Legislature.
I’ve found that most of my friends and neighbors here in Sussex County are what I call middle people. We try to avoid ideological extremes, viewing government as a way to solve practical problems, not stoke political passions.
For years, one of the biggest practical problems facing Sussex County has been high-speed internet infrastructure. Now that Delaware is receiving $100 million from the federal infrastructure program to provide broadband coverage across the state, we need to listen to the middle people and take a commonsense approach to wiring rural Delaware.
Fortunately, we’re off to a good start.
Delaware is focusing on a smart, straightforward game plan: investing $56 million, in partnership with experienced broadband providers bringing additional private investment to the table, to wire the estimated 11,600 homes and businesses – mostly in rural Sussex and Kent counties – that still don’t have access to high-speed, wired broadband.
As we target our resources to these last internet deserts, Delaware is already closer than most states to fully wiring all our communities. Only 3.76% of our state still lacks access to fixed broadband at 100 Mbps or faster speeds. While our urban and suburban residents already have high-speed broadband on their doorsteps, 12.37% of rural Delawareans still don’t have access to super-fast service.
The federal infrastructure bill will deliver Delaware more than enough funding to finish the job. That means families in every remote pocket of Sussex County will be able to see a doctor via telehealth, take an online college class, or just kick back and stream a movie without endless buffering and delays. And it means farmers will be able to start using connected technologies like crop sensors, precision irrigation and even autonomous tractors.
Unlike some federal programs that just throw money at problems, moderates in Congress worked across the aisle last year to build smart safeguards into the infrastructure bill to guarantee that taxpayers get real value for their hard-earned money.
During the last federally funded broadband buildout, for example, the nation wasted billions of dollars on redundancy, cronyism and incompetence. This time, Delaware needs to follow the new infrastructure bill’s guardrails of transparency, meritocracy and prioritizing unserved areas. Open competition among all companies and technologies, while valuing the experience and reliability of proven network builders, should surface the best solutions and get the job done faster.
And once every home has an option for fast, reliable service, we should invest any remaining federal funds helping more of our neighbors connect to and benefit from these networks.
To be good stewards of the tax dollars that have been entrusted to us, let’s invest in promoting broadband adoption, offering computer skills training and infusing digital literacy programs into K-12 education. Workforce development programs focused on digital upskilling will also help prepare more Delawareans for the Information Age economy.
Make no mistake: increasing our broadband coverage, connections and competence will make us more attractive to employers and help accelerate economic growth in Sussex County.
That includes working to sign up more of the hold-out households that haven’t yet subscribed to broadband. About 200,000 Delawareans – 21% of our population – are eligible for free broadband service through an agreement between the federal government and the leading internet service providers. But only a fraction of eligible families have signed up.
As with so many priorities, from public safety to public health, individual initiative and civic participation will make the difference between successes and setbacks. We need to spread the word in every community, from rural areas to the inner cities, that broadband subscriptions and basic computer skills can connect you to continuing education, job opportunities, online medical consultations, and signups for social services.
And, as a retired law enforcement officer, I recognize that a more connected state is a safer state. At the state police, for example, we encourage residents to reach us by Facebook or internet through Delawarecrimestoppers.com.
A safer, smarter and more prosperous state, including the most isolated rural communities, is a goal that Sussex County residents and all Delawareans should share. Let’s work together, marshaling our resources and mobilizing our citizens, so that the First State leads the way into the Information Age.