Only every so often does a person have an opportunity to be a part of something really special, to do something that will help change the lives of countless others. For a few of us, that action might become something of great notoriety. For example, Nashville’s Becca Stevens of Thistle Farms was recently named a CNN Hero for 20 years of dedication to helping women escape prostitution, addiction and abuse. It was a worthy honor. But for most of us, our moment takes place when no one else is watching. Perhaps you make a habitual donation to the Salvation Army bell-ringer. Maybe you volunteer as a Tennessee Promise mentor or have invested countless hours into the lives of youth at your church (as my mother did).
Whether your involvement takes place in the public eye or is seen by no one but yourself, the common ingredient for success is the singular action of an individual. You — not someone else or another group of people — took action for something you believe in. You did it.
Today, you have an opportunity to make a difference in the future of your children, your neighbors, your community and all of rural Tennessee. And I’m asking for your help.
Broadband is one of the most important topics the Tennessee Legislature will tackle in 2017. As many of you are painfully aware, broadband service outside the most densely populated areas is lacking in our state. Many places lack internet access at all. And while we watch multiple providers compete fiercely to provide Gigabit connectivity to growing Nashville, our small-town and rural residents see little or no new investment in technology to serve their needs.
I’ve been to countless community gatherings and co-op annual meetings where lack of access to broadband is the No. 1 topic. Stories about parents driving their kids to fast-food restaurants just so they can complete their online assignments are painfully common. Businesses and industrial parks need robust connectivity to turn on the engine of job creation but all too often find themselves stuck in a “chicken-or-egg” dilemma.
The state of Tennessee recognizes this a problem. Citing broadband’s role in attracting new companies and fostering job growth, the Department of Economic and Community Development conducted a study to recommend changes. The legislature’s own “think tank,” the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations, also took an in-depth look at how broadband impacts our state. Both came to similar conclusions: State law needs to be changed to solve this problem. Governor Bill Haslam has spoken publicly about his commitment to seeing meaningful broadband legislation pass this year.
I believe it can happen. But this is not a problem that government can solve with a simple stroke of a pen. It requires a long-term commitment to the people, places and things that make Tennessee’s rural and suburban communities great. Ask yourself this: While the bounty of rural America is brought to our great cities, why shouldn’t the opportunities of cities be brought to rural America?
Your electric co-op is committed to this task — not because its good for business but because its good for all of us. So where do we begin? Start by making your voice heard by our leaders in Nashville. You need to take action, not someone else or another group of people. You. Because when you speak, the politicians know they have the support of the voters. And when your elected officials have your support, the laws will change.
Thankfully, it is easier than ever to join this movement. Simply go to takeaction.tnelectric.org and click “get involved.” From there, you can easily learn more, stay informed and contact your elected officials. I hope you’ll do it today.