Here’s a humorous but true story. Back in the late 1990s, several business leaders, economic development professionals, and elected officials all got together in Indianapolis to consider this new thing called the Internet. During the course of an all-day meeting, one prominent official pounded the table and shouted: "Indiana’s No. 1 need is more 56K modems! That’s got to be a top priority!"

It seems humorous and dated now, but what this business leader was really talking about was primary access to the transformational power of the internet. No modem, no access. As laughable as it may seem today, a 56K modem was state-of-the art connectivity back then.

Fast forward some two decades and the issue still remains. The real transformational power of the internet today lives in high-speed connectivity. As a Google executive recently remarked, the next chapter of the internet will be written at gigabit speed. That’s 1,000 megabits per second (Mbps), a far cry from the days of the 56K modem.

I submit to you future leaders that following the 2016 election, high-speed internet connectivity and access will be a top issue for Indiana. Too many Hoosiers and Hoosier businesses still don’t have adequate connectivity and internet access.

The next few weeks will be intense for you, but what follows afterward is even more important. The good news is that the gubernatorial platforms all include a focus on broadband improvements. Several state legislators, mayors and county leaders have also expressed their support to increase broadband penetration, speed and capacity. For the people, businesses and organizations across the Hoosier state, that’s profoundly important.

Few initiatives will have greater impact. Here’s a few considerations:

Today’s global business environment requires high-speed, high-capacity connectivity capable of data transport for very large files. Millions of people link together every day by video-conferencing software. Millions more download instructional videos and movies around the clock. Manufacturing as we know it today cannot exist without high-speed internet.

On the healthcare side of the arena, high-capacity broadband drives healthcare delivery, improves patient safety and advances the quality of diagnostic capacity. People’s lives and quality of diagnostic outcomes literally depend in many instances on the availability of high-res images. A faint differentiation in an image shadow can affect the diagnosis of cancer and other disease states.

Educational quality and effectiveness also increasingly depends on reliable high-capacity broadband. A couple of years ago a national report, The Broadband Imperative, recommended that K-12 school networks develop and operate at a gigabit – not a megabit – capacity by 2017. That’s next year. Online textbooks, instructional videos and internet-based homework all add to higher bandwidth needs. Can Indiana schools meet this standard?

Want to talk about workforce development, which is one of the Indiana’s most critical needs at the moment? Fast-paced, transformational workforce development is also dependent on bandwidth quality. If Indiana is going to level the playing field in rural and urban workforce development, high-speed broadband about the 100 Mbps mark is a must.

What’s the problem? Many major urban centers in Indiana have high-speed internet, and some instances, fiber-based gigabit-ready internet. But it’s not nearly as available as it needs to be.

Commercial companies like Smithville Fiber have stepped up to the plate with fiber initiatives like we did beginning in 2008, when Smithville put about $100 million on the table. We’ve since ante’ d up again and again. But large or small, we can’t do it by ourselves.

Here’s a key issue for you when you come to elective power. A recent scorecard published by Broadband Communities magazine cited research that showed how Indiana ranked 43rd in state-supported broadband. Perhaps not surprisingly, New York ranked No. 1. But alarmingly, Ohio ranked No. 2, with almost double the level of state support that Indiana provides. That needs to change and change quickly, as other research shows that poor broadband availability is one of the key reasons people will move away from a county or city.

Granted things have gotten better in recent years. But if Indiana is going to be truly competitive in 2017 and beyond – if the state is going to improve the quality of life for its citizens across the board – high-speed gigabit-level connectivity is a must have.

Let’s work together to make it happen.

John Patten is president of Smithville Fiber.

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