Yet few candidates, from local mayoral races all the way up to the Senate, provide lip service to the fact that millions of Americans still lack access to broadband, and even fewer flesh out a robust policy to address it. At a time when politics is more divisive than ever, basic issues such as access to the internet are being overshadowed by the massive ideological clashes happening across the country.
“If you were to ask people what issues they’re voting on, first and foremost they would say ‘pro-Trump or anti-Trump,’” said Susan Boser, the Democratic candidate seeking to replace Republican House Member Glenn Thompson in Pennsylvania. “Next would be guns and abortion, then the needs of the area, which are jobs and the opioid epidemic.”
Boser told me a lack of access to broadband is a huge problem in her district, which is a large, predominantly rural swath along the northwestern edge of the state; its largest town, Indiana, has a population of less than 15,000.
This is not an insignificant number of people even as a percentage of the population. And this issue has the added advantages of:
- No political polarization
- No impact on either moral, ethical, or religious issues
- Good for the economy
Relatively easy to address and quickly if the community will is there
And yet …
In Tennessee, broadband access has faced progress and setbacks. Chattanooga found economic revival after building city-owned gigabit internet, but was quickly prohibited from expanding the network to surrounding communities because of a Telecom-backed state law. Efforts to fight those limits have failed, making it difficult for municipal internet providers to expand and offer services to smaller communities.
A Tennessee Democratic Party spokesperson told me the broadband battle is being drowned out by more contentious rhetoric.
“We’ve got a governor race with a highly contested Republican primary, so you’ve got all those candidates out there with television ads focused on immigration and other issues,” he told me over the phone. “That’s where voter attention is at the moment.”
So many people get wrapped up in causes they can’t hope to impact to the exclusion of local issue they can impact.