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A utility that needs to be available to all

The Lakeville Journal Editorial

There are those who regularly ask this newspaper, “When will you go fully digital? Surely it would save you money, and that’s how most people get their news now.” The answer is more complicated than, “Sure, you’re right, we would love to save money and reach a wide audience of people who don’t look at print media any more. ASAP!”

Outside of the arguments about how much of our readership still likes to hold the news in their hands and read it on paper rather than on the computer screen, etc., the real core reason to keep producing printed newspapers to get the local news out in northwestern Connecticut (The Lakeville Journal) and eastern New York state (The Millerton News) is a continued lack of good high speed internet service. Without this kind of access being not only available but also affordable, a wide swath of this region’s population would be left out of the loop of local news if our newspapers were online only.

This media company feels a high level of commitment to our readership and wants to keep the area news open to as many of them as possible, whether they have good internet service or not. But there are many other reasons that people in rural areas like ours need strong internet. Especially with the onslaught of COVID, the need to have high speed internet available to those who work remotely from home and students who needed to keep up with their schoolwork online became crystal clear in the past two years. A line was drawn between those who had internet access and those who did not, and those who did not were put at a great disadvantage.

Another reason to want good access to the internet is to keep track of one’s town government while meetings are happening either fully online or as hybrids of in-person and online. Online meetings have helped with transparency of local governing, allowing those who may not be able to get out to their town halls a way to attend these meetings. They should continue to be run at least as hybrids, so more residents can take part. This method has been proven to bring greater involvement by residents.

None of this can continue efficiently, though, without good internet service for the area. There are multiple groups working on making this happen, including:

Sharon Connect at www.sharonconnect.org, which serves the town of Sharon and has a board with Jill Drew and Meghan Flanagan as co-chairs;  Northwest ConneCT at www.northwest-connect.org, which was initiated by our former state representative for the 64th District, Roberta Willis, who advocated and saw the need for good internet access while she served in Hartford from 2001 to 2017; the Northwest Hills Council of Governments, which is the group made up of 21 regional first selectmen, town managers and mayors, which commissioned a study  of broadband and mobile technical capacity in the region (in addition to many other studies of regional needs). See www.northwesthillscog.org/reports-documents.

The federal legislation that the Biden administration passed on infrastructure should help increase broadband access, according to our Sen. Chris Murphy, www.murphy.senate.gov. Murphy wrote there would be a minimum allocation of $100 million to help provide broadband coverage across the state, including providing access to at least 27,000 people who currently lack it. Does that mean we in the Northwest Corner will be among those beneficiaries? Now is the time to be sure our legislators all know how important this utility is for this region, and to advocate for it.

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