David Pack: It's time to fix Utah's digital divide – Salt Lake Tribune

High-speed internet access is no longer a luxury. It’s our treasure trove of knowledge and our pathway to progress.

(Zak Podmore | The Salt Lake Tribune) Nathan Berry, a tower technician, works to bring internet to students in southern San Juan County on December 8, 2020.

As an educator and a member of the West Jordan City Council, I’m confronted daily with a pressing concern: the digital divide. In this age of information, knowledge isn’t just in books; it’s pulsing through the veins of the internet, a lifeline that, unfortunately, isn’t connected to everyone.

High-speed internet access is no longer a luxury – it’s the cornerstone of informed decision-making, the catalyst for unprecedented growth and job creation and the gateway to life-enhancing services. The internet is our treasure trove of knowledge and our pathway to progress. Let’s face it: In today’s digital age, connectivity is as vital as electricity or water.

So why, in communities as vibrant and progressive as those throughout Utah, are we not ensuring that every citizen has access to the internet?

In my own family, internet access is a game-changer, offering information about numerous educational and recreational opportunities, from music lessons to public performances. That has made an enormous difference in raising my children, being able to connect them with countless options.

But it’s not just about catering to the young; it’s also about the elderly members of our communities. When left out of the digital loop, our aging population is less autonomous and becomes reliant on the younger generation for information. Conversely, equal internet access empowers every citizen to access information and resources independently, promoting overall well-being.

A powerful tool for personal self-sufficiency, the internet has revolutionized learning, offering students an open world of information at their fingertips. I’ve seen firsthand that informed students make better decisions, which fosters a healthier and more vibrant community.

Companies like Comcast set the example by being one of the first providers to participate in the federal government’s Affordable Connectivity Program and being instrumental in providing low-cost, broadband to individuals, families, schools and organizations. We need to ensure more providers and civic leaders work to extend such access to everyone throughout the state.

When that happens, consider the positive effect on local businesses and job creation. For example, high-speed internet access is the lifeblood of establishments like the Novva Data Center, a massive venture headquartered in West Jordan that requires high-speed, reliable internet access. It’s no surprise that more businesses mean more jobs, which leads to prosperous communities. But this forward-looking prosperity is only possible if we ensure dependable, high-speed internet access.

Our ultimate goal should be 100% internet accessibility at an affordable price for all residents. Imagine schools equipped to provide laptops and internet access to every student, regardless of socio-economic status, fostering a fair learning environment. Envision businesses as dedicated community partners, working together to achieve this objective.

Finally, consider the impact on public services. Telemedicine, made possible by reliable internet services, became a lifeline during the pandemic and allowed residents to consult with doctors without risking exposure. With our aging population, such advancements can provide the same benefits going forward for all Utahns.

I understand the concern of higher costs to close today’s digital divide. However, with multiple internet service providers competing in a free market economy, prices invariably decrease. And with $317.4 million in federal funds to improve internet access across Utah, we can work to ensure that cost is not a barrier.

It’s time we work together so every Utahn has access to high-speed internet. It’s an investment in our future that will yield dividends in education, business growth, job creation and public services.

Let’s turn this digital revolution into a digital evolution, create a more inclusive digital future and make Utah truly connected.

David Pack, Ph.D., is an accomplished business executive, entrepreneur, university professor and civic servant, with decades of progressive responsibility, expertise and success serving entities in public and private sectors as CEO, CFO, COO, CVO, CXO, founder, trustee, director, treasurer, secretary, vice-chair, chair, vice-president, president and managing partner, performing duties as a board member, officer and equity consultant. He is West Jordan’s District 4 council member and is seeking reelection.

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