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Friday, June 22, 2012

Access to Broadband - Cambodia is an Example: Like Access to Electricity

Kids swimming in rapids of a waterfall in rural Cambodia 

Maine Voices: Linking rural areas to the Internet is essential to economic growth.
Broadband connection is as necessary as federally funded electrical lines and highways were in their day.
By Angus King  Portland Press Herald

Visiting the developing country of Cambodia, in Siem Riep and Phnom Penh, but also along jungle trails in once land mine infested rural areas, my husband and I were struck by how the country embellished information technology. Broadband was available and nearly everyone carried cell phones. Our guide explained how even the most rural Cambodian communities create electricity co-ops where they purchased a generator and rented out time to people for charging their phones and computers. Many Cambodian communities have no electricity at all, but everyone seems to own and use a cell phone. Our guide said the monthly charges were very reasonable, a utility subsidized by the government, and included international calling service!
Contrast this experience with that of an American high school friend of mine living in a mountain area of North Carolina. She can't participate with our class alumni listserver because of limited broadband availability.

Last evening's Information Technology (IT) Town Hall Meeting at the Oxford Networks in Brunswick Landing, the location of the former Brunswick Naval Air Station in Maine, former state governor Angus King and Independent candidate for the US Senate spoke to a full auditorium about the importance of rural broadband access, and other IT related topics. 

Internet followers as well as those in the audience asked questions.

Broadband is like access to electricity was during the 1930's, said King.  "Would you buy a house today, if there were no access to electricity?"  That's the way rural life was for thousands of people during the President Franklin Roosevelt administration. Back then, economic development followed the federal government's investment in developing electricity to rural areas.  Today, access to electricity is taken for granted in rural areas. Our next challenge is to bring broadband access to everyone.  

In other words, in Julie speak - if Cambodia can do it, so can we.

Our Cambodian guide explained how the government invests in supporting access to cell phones and broadband, but look at the return on investment.  Small businesses were cropping up everywhere we went in Cambodia. Everyone we saw was using a cell phone- computers were evident in many stores and in the lobbies of hotels. Cambodia's economy is growing, people are climbing out of the Khmer Rouge oppression of the 1970's, they take great pride in demonstrating their willingness to be progressive.

Maine is a perfect place to demonstrate the value of improving access to increasing broadband availability.  Mainers are well regarded for being self sufficient, hard working and industrious.  Given access to broadband in rural communities, the state's entrepreneurial spirit can be ignited to inspire creative economic envelopment. 

Historically, visionary leaders understood and supported investment in expanding people's ability to access commerce.  President Abraham Lincoln understood the importance of trains and roads.  President Franklin Roosevelt made electricity available to places where engineers were challenged to build the Hoover Dam and the Tennessee Valley Authority.  President Eisenhower understood the strategic urgency of developing our nation's highway system, which is also essential for the transport of food.  

Governor King brought a visionary message about the importance of broadband access to the IT Town Hall Meeting in Brunswick - let's make broadband access available to everyone.  

After investing in broadband, King says, the government can take credit for creating the opportunities and then step aside to let ordinary "people ingenuity" take it to the next level.



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