By Jill Boudreau
Every day, Skagit County residents benefit from our community’s high-tech health information exchange that connects hospitals, doctors and patients over lightning-fast Internet. Medical Information Network–North Sound (MIN-NS) allows doctors to share records and lifesaving test results, as well as video-conference with specialists and patients in real time.
This connection between caregivers is possible because of our region’s high-speed Internet backbone upon which dedicated, secure connections were built. The network started in 1995, when the city of Mount Vernon began building a next-generation fiber optic grid with an eye to the future. Our city purposefully included extra capacity, knowing that the availability of next-generation broadband could spark incredible entrepreneurship by citizens, businesses and institutions like MIN-NS.
Today, Mount Vernon is a thriving high-tech hub. We’ve seen businesses set up shop and new community initiatives emerge. The system our city chose that catalyzed this growth is a municipally owned network that allows private providers to compete for customers. It’s a public/private partnership scoring a win for residents, for business and for the city.
Washingtonians understand the vitality of high-speed Internet today and that this infrastructure will be even more important in the future to create jobs and opportunity. Unfortunately, many states have restricted the rights of local governments to make their own choices when it comes to accessing this critical infrastructure.
Last summer, two communities — Wilson, North Carolina, and Chattanooga, Tennessee, — filed a petition with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to seek removal of burdensome state laws that have prevented plans to expand their successful local broadband Internet initiatives to serve neighboring localities. Recently, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler proposed siding with the two cities to strike down the barriers in North Carolina and Tennessee and allow these communities to meet the needs of their citizens.
The Commission should support Wheeler’s proposal, the principles of local choice and competition and the citizens of Mount Vernon, Wilson and Chattanooga. The removal of state barriers would set a powerful precedent in support of communities.
When it comes to community growth and prosperity, next-generation Internet is vital infrastructure just like a road or sewer pipe. Though what we’ve built in Mount Vernon may not work in every city, each community should have the choice to pursue fast, affordable and reliable broadband in the way that works for them.
And states should support, not obstruct, the next entrepreneur, the next education revolution or the next MIN-NS.
– Jill Boudreau is the mayor of Mount Vernon.