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Op-Ed: There is economic need for broadband in rural NC

By Gregg Thompson  

Running a small business isn’t easy in the best of times, and these aren’t the best of times. Social distancing and concerns over spreading COVID-19 forced many small businesses to try to connect with customers online rather than in person, but here’s the catch:

Some businesses can’t easily do that.

I grew up in North Carolina’s beautiful mountains, an area that brings irreplaceable diversity of culture and vibrancy to our state. But here in the early decades of the 21st century, when the phones in our pockets are smarter than the computers that helped the astronauts land on the moon, there are still rural pockets of the state that don’t have fast internet. According to the Federal Communications Commission, the number of North Carolinians without broadband access is close to half a million.

That’s unacceptable.

Broadband, another way of saying a fast, reliable and always-on connection, isn’t a luxury. It’s not something you get so you can stream movies while the kids play video games. Broadband is a necessity, especially if you’re a small business owner. Being able to connect with customers online matters as much as having a phone so they can call you.

Small and independent local businesses form the backbone of North Carolina’s economy and deserve access to all the tools they need to not only survive but thrive, regardless of where they are. One of the most powerful tools they can have is broadband.

What’s more, broadband can also help attract new industries and jobs to rural communities, just as rivers and rail and roads did in the past. Companies aren’t going to locate in communities if they can’t easily connect with their customers.

That’s why my association, the National Federation of Independent Business, is asking the General Assembly to remove the barriers to expanding broadband, especially the expenses associated with infrastructure to reach all areas of the state. This will definitely help ensure that all North Carolinians have access to fast internet speeds and the economic opportunities that it brings.

Broadband connectivity allows our small businesses to grow by giving them access to customers far beyond the reach of their brick-and-mortar locations. To ensure the continued economic vibrancy of our small business community, we need broadband to reach every corner of North Carolina.

Gregg Thompson is the North Carolina director of the National Federation of Independent Business.  

FOR MORE COLUMNS AND LETTERS TO THE EDITOR, CHECK OUT OUR OPINION SECTION HERE.

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