On Point launched its 2017 National Listening Tour to go out into the country and get a handle on the issues driving conversations in communities big and small. We're heading to Portland, Maine this week, but we also are continuing to hear your stories via our Hearken module on the #OnPointListens page. We recently received a fascinating pitch from a listener in Colorado, Betsy Blecha:
Please address the challenges rural communities face with establishing broadband infrastructure. The corporate companies say the demand isn't there, but it is stifling economic development and impacting education.
We reached out to Betsy, looked into the broadband access issues in Colorado and beyond, and kept this story on our radar as the Trump administration was touting national infrastructure improvements.
Coincidentally, FiveThirtyEight's Clare Malone recently touched down in Colorado -- Saguache County, to be precise — to write about what she called "the worst internet in America." So we decided to bring Betsy and Clare together, along with a national telecommunications expert, to dig into the state of internet access in the U.S today on our show.
Betsy, who serves as the Jackson County Commissioner in Colorado, has been on the front lines of her community's struggle to plug into reliable, high-speed broadband internet.
"There's a lot of barriers to providing access to rural communities, a lot of that being cost," she told us. "When we were trying to work with private companies, cost always became the factor."
After giving up on the local internet carrier to provide service, her county decided to partner with a company in Nebraska that would provide wireless service — not for the money, but to support the local residents.
"They want to keep our community sustainable," she said.
Betsy hopes this will create competition, increase speeds and increase coverage. But challenges remain on her community's road to reliable internet access, and the stakes are high.
"If you don't have reliable broadband, no one is going to want to bring their business here, or expand their business," she told us. "Kids that go away to college, and then want to come home, they don't want to come back to a community that doesn't have high-speed internet."
Do you have a local story in your community or region worth a closer look? We'd love to hear it. Use our Hearken module below to clue us in.