Laurels: Broadband in rural areas should be accompanied by talk about competition, regulation

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 25, 2021

Laurel to local legislators’ stances in support of broadband expansion into more rural areas such as the far southeastern corner of Rowan County.

It shouldn’t be acceptable that fast internet access is simultaneously required to participate in 21st century society but not available to those who choose to live in rural areas. And when you hear or read quotes like those from Rep. Harry Warren, rural broadband is┬ánot all that dissimilar from electrifying rural areas last century.

“Broadband is not only essential in rural areas for education purposes, but if we don’t get that technology out there the economic development of our rural areas and the gap between the metropolitan areas, which are experiencing most of our population growth, that gap will get larger and larger and the rural communities will be left further and further behind,” Warren said during the Rowan County Chamber of Commerce’s Power in Partnership event last week.

But there should be more to the conversation. Policy makers should also explore incentivizing a more competitive marketplace or treat providers like utilities and create consumer protections against unnecessary price increases for internet service in markets where there are monopolies.

Lawmakers may have disagreed with the way the city of Salisbury created a fiber-optic network, but it resulted in better service and prices by incumbent providers.

Laurel to Gov. Roy Cooper for choosing to ease some restrictions put in place because of COVID-19.

In the case of raising the cap for fans at outdoor sporting events like high school football, Cooper’s decision should bring some vitality back to small towns in the state. Critical in the formula for ensuring the changes do not pose a health risk: schools must enforce social distancing rules and mask-wearing requirements until cases decrease further and health officials say it’s OK to do otherwise.

North Carolinians and Rowan Countians should take the lifting of restrictions as a sign that things are moving in the right direction. It’s not time yet to move to pre-pandemic practices.

Laurel to the Rowan-Salisbury Schools Board of Education for putting some time before elementary school students return to in-person classes four days per week.

After months of a mixed schedule, with two days in person and three online, a number of logistical considerations will need to be sorted out, including getting students to school safely and keeping them learning without increasing health risks. As school board members said, virus trends could also turn in another direction, and it will be easier and less disruptive to stay the course than switch back to a mixed schedule.