EDITORIAL: Don't forget broadband after lockdown

2020-04-20 | The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

April 20-- Apr. 20--In recent years, there has been a lot of talk about expanding broadband connectivity.

As more and more government offices and services went online, the divide between accessible and inaccessible became undeniable. Data plans and internet services aren't cheap, cutting out the poor. Rural areas and some low-income neighborhoods don't have the infrastructure.

Then the coronavirus pandemic happened. In a breath, home internet went from desired option to life-sustaining necessity.

People are using the internet to stay informed. They use it to do their banking and pay their bills. They use it to shop for groceries, buy prescriptions and stream entertainment.

But they are also using it to go to school. It's how people can work from home. It's even how routine doctor visits are being conducted.

If the shutdown is responsible for limiting the spread of the infectious respiratory disease that has killed more than 1,100 Pennsylvanians in a month, then the internet is why it isn't more.

And that is why the World Wide Web has to be wide enough to work for the whole world.

Part of that is knowing who has access, and that's why the Westmoreland County Planning Department's broadband survey is so important. The deadline to complete the survey has been extended until the end of April, which is good because the information is too important to be incomplete.

The survey is part of a $100,000 seven-county study, and it might show where holes are that could improve business and industry. Today, though, accurate information about who has access also could help real people in their real lives.

Broadband access needs to be viewed as a utility little different from water or electricity or gas. It needs to be as accessible as the sidewalks that connect us to our schools and jobs and banks.

Maybe it took a pandemic to bring the reality of that home. Let's hope that isn't a lesson that gets forgotten when the lockdowns are lifted.