We ALL Need Broadband

There’s been a lot of talk about broadband lately. If you’re working from home, have children trying to participate in school from home, lost your job and need to apply for unemployment, want to watch programs on Netflix, Hulu or any number of other online services, or need access to resources like your local library, you need broadband. You need access to the internet.

These days broadband is like water or electricity. We all need it to live our lives and we need it to be fast and affordable. Some parts of our community don’t have quality, affordable broadband, especially in the rural areas of Shawnee County. Crises like the COVID-19 situation shine a spotlight on gaps and weaknesses in our infrastructure.

Strengthening Infrastructure

Smiling woman with eyeglasses using laptop at home.Fast, reliable internet service is essential infrastructure for economic and community development. It supports market expansion efforts, business creation, and the ability to attract and retain businesses and young people in a community. Fast, reliable internet service is also critical infrastructure for public safety, education, health care, employment searches and community engagement – all elements that contribute to a high quality of life. In communities where there is economic disparity and poverty, broadband helps bridge the digital divide.

Students who are expected to do homework and research online are able to learn and achieve more. Farmers are able to use real-time data to reduce crop damage and increase productivity. Job-seekers can shorten the duration of their unemployment by as much as 25 percent. Broadband supports both individual and economic vitality. It is the lifeblood of our information society, fueling economic growth and innovation, and facilitating learning and civic engagement.

Telemedicine

Since all of Kansas is under a Safer at Home order, we’ve been hearing a lot about telemedicine, which allows you to see your doctor or health care professional via the internet. It’s not quite like being in their office, but it does allow them to see and diagnose you. It’s becoming vital in helping prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus. In rural areas that don’t have hospitals and have limited access to medical services, it’s a life line. Telemedicine requires access to fast broadband services.

Park for WiFi Access

While we’re closed, the library has moved our services online. We did that knowing this would be a challenge for library users without internet access. We serve all of Topeka and Shawnee County and we never want to exclude anyone. For now, we have expanded access to the library’s WiFi on the west side of our building by Claire’s Courtyard daily from 7am-9:15pm. If you need it, use it and please be safe. Stay in your car. If you’re on foot, maintain social distancing. Watch for other ways we’re trying to expand access to broadband.

The library has long been an advocate for broadband services for anchor institutions like hospitals, schools and libraries, and for residents. We all need to be advocates for broadband in our community and in Kansas. As we get through this challenging time together, let’s not forget the lessons we’ve learned and the work we all have to do in getting fast and affordable broadband services for our whole community.

Gina Millsap

Gina Millsap is the chief executive officer of the Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library. She’s worked in libraries for 40 years and received her Masters of Library Science from the University of Missouri. She currently serves on the Implementation Task Force for Momentum 2022, a community-wide strategic planning process. Gina chairs the project workgroup for Topeka and Shawnee County Community Broadband Planning Task Force and serves on the board of Lyrasis, a nonprofit organization that provides continuing education and services to the library industry.