By Rep. Darrio Melton
As we’re looking forward to the future of Alabama, I can’t help but continue to look at the way jobs and education are linked. Companies want to locate where there are quality schools and a well-trained workforce, and without that infrastructure our economic development plans for the state are useless.
Currently, 1.7 million Alabamians–35% of the state’s population–do not have access to high-speed Internet access. That discrepancy is even worse when we compare urban and rural areas: 20 percent of the state’s urban population is without access compared to 56 percent of the rural population.
As companies are looking to move to Alabama, we know they’re going to be looking at our schools and our physical infrastructure, but are we considering the impact of our technological infrastructure?
Not only does the presence of high-speed internet impact the way companies are able to do business, but it impacts the way our teachers are able to instruct in the classrooms, by utilizing technology components to crete a workforce of highly-trained, tech-capable individuals.
We know without a doubt that the jobs of the future will require more than a working knowledge of computers–they will require full-immersion in the technological process, reflected in every component of the job.
Beyond training a workforce that’s prepared for the job, access to fiber-provided high-speed internet is becoming an integral component for areas where the state is falling short.
With the ever growing demands of rural healthcare, we must have the infrastructure available to provide telemedicine services.
With our government becoming increasingly digital, we must ensure that our local governments have the ability to comply with that process.
With virtual public schools on the horizon, high-speed Internet access is a critical component to success for students across Alabama.
The fact of the matter is that Alabama has precious few dollars in our budget, and we have to make decisions about the best way to use them–but hardly any infrastructure investment would offer a return comparable to guaranteeing the spread of quality, affordable, high-speed Internet access across Alabama.
The Technology Era isn’t going away, and the sooner we get Alabama on track with global expectations, the sooner we can continue to be a player in the national and global economies.
Rep. Darrio Melton is a Democrat from Selma. He was elected to the Alabama House of Representatives in 2010 and currently serves as the Chair of the House Democratic Caucus.