Kentucky must expand access to high-speed Internet

Being connected to our community used to mean something very different. No longer do we rely on the morning paper and the evening broadcast to deliver our news. We now expect it instantly, on whatever device we have, wherever we are, at whatever time we choose. That's a monumental shift. We expect technology to keep up with our needs and desires for access to knowledge.

In similar fashion, businesses, education systems and health care industries have become more dependent on wireless broadband access. Access enables us to use new technologies, connect to communities across the world, prepare our youth for the future and deliver better health care that saves lives.

Kentucky has been slower to adapt than other states. There are still areas of the commonwealth that have limited or no access to broadband. If we are to compete in the global marketplace, we must close these coverage gaps and ensure that every Kentuckian from Paducah to Pikeville has access to the same opportunities wireless broadband affords.

The recent article "Groups working to increase high-speed Internet access in Kentucky" hit the nail on the head when describing broadband access in Kentucky.

Although more than 90 percent of Kentuckians have access to the Internet, far too many rural areas experience spotty or slow connections.

Until this is reconciled, Kentucky's businesses, schools and citizens face a competitive disadvantage.

Technology is playing an increasing role in the education of Kentucky students, especially technology such as tablets and other mobile devices that uses wireless broadband.

With the extensive global resources that can be accessed by students in the palms of their hands through wireless devices, printed textbooks (and in some ways, classrooms) are becoming obsolete. In fact, some Kentucky school districts are moving entirely to digital platforms and doing away with textbooks. The future of education in Kentucky requires wireless infrastructure because the technology students will use depend on it.

Internet access is considered a basic tool in the modern learning process. While we were once confined to the limitations of classrooms and libraries, students now have access to a wealth of knowledge on any subject imaginable with the click of a button. Similarly, small businesses that once were limited to a geographic region can compete globally, reaching new markets every day via the Internet.

So what must Kentucky do?

First, we must ensure state laws are in accordance with the modern world. The Kentucky Chamber's 2012 Jobs Report found that our outdated telecommunication laws and overly burdensome regulatory atmosphere have stifled investment and limited our ability to compete with surrounding states. The report suggests that if Kentucky were to update archaic laws, it would improve its attractiveness to new businesses and subsequently, more jobs.

If these regulatory barriers are not removed, Kentucky stands to miss opportunities that will go to other states that have modernized their laws to welcome the networks of the future. Kentucky risks moving backward in education, economic development and job creation while neighboring states are moving forward and leading through innovation.

Any barriers that prevent communication providers from investing in a more robust wireless infrastructure should be removed to provide better access to educational opportunities through the use of technology. Kentucky must relieve communications providers of the requirement to invest in outdated copper networks. Requiring providers to invest in copper wire technology is like requiring automakers to build wagons just in case somebody wants to use them.

Lawmakers should be setting goals rather than stipulating specific technologies.

That is precisely why Citizens for a Digital Future, or CDF,) has launched a Kentucky chapter. CDF works to advocate for the needs of those who deserve a fully connected, digital future. We support public policies that encourage transparency, broad deployment and robust enhancement of broadband and digital technologies.

We encourage lawmakers to promote ideas that put Kentucky in line with the modern world of communications and that help bring wireless broadband access to the entire commonwealth. We must act quickly. Kentucky's future depends on it.

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader