Let’s Ensure #InternetDay Keeps Getting People Connected

Post authored by NMTC Coalition Board Member Phil Glynn of Travois.

Social media has given rise to many so-called “hashtag holidays” that spring up on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram each morning as we surf on our smartphones for news and updates from our friends. #NationalPizzaDay, #NationalSiblingsDay, #NoDirtyDishesDay. Many are entertaining, some are thought-provoking. Few, however, are critical.

October 29th marks #InternetDay, and is among the exceptions. In just a few short decades, the internet has changed the way our communities interact and live, becoming an essential tool for education, healthcare and commerce.

Many tech companies will take this opportunity to discuss new and emerging products and services they plan to bring to the market, but it’s also a day to consider those without access to broadband. And while most of our resources are being spent on the next generation of faster, more reliable digital access, many communities who still are waiting for the revolution to come to them.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) 2018 report on Broadband found that approximately 14 million rural Americans and 1.2 million Americans living on Tribal lands still lack mobile LTE broadband at speeds of 10 Mbps/3 Mbps. One of the reasons for this divide is the expense of delivering such technology to rural and Tribal areas.

Broadband supports more than just surfing the net. It is an important component of our healthcare delivery system. In remote areas with shortages in doctors and particularly specialists, broadband allows physicians and patients to consult with specialists through telemedicine. High-speed networks also help health professionals remotely monitor the vital signs of elderly or disabled patients living at home.

Travois invests in housing, health care, education and infrastructure projects to create economic opportunity in Indian Country. In the tribal communities of Alaska, Travois worked to fill financing gaps in the development of phases of the Terrestrial for Every Region of Rural Alaska (TERRA) project. TERRA is a hybrid terrestrial fiber-optic and microwave network that removes the limitations of satellite and provides symmetrical broadband service to Alaska’s remote and rural regions. The TERRA network delivers critical bandwidth to numerous public, nonprofit and private entities such as regional health corporations, school districts, native organizations and residents.

The build-out of the TERRA network is no small feat. Alaska is home to some of the most challenging geography in North America and regularly experiences unpredictable and unforgiving weather which can hamper construction. A majority of the communities that most need fast, reliable Internet are separated by vast distances and often can’t be reached by road.

The TERRA projects have received key financing through the New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC). The NMTC was designed to increase the flow of capital to businesses and low income communities by providing a tax incentive to private investors. Over the last ten years, the NMTC has proven to be an effective, targeted and cost-efficient financing tool valued by businesses, communities and investors across the country.

The NMTC program attracts capital to low income communities by providing private investors with a federal tax credit for investments made in businesses or economic development projects located in some of the most distressed communities in the nation – census tracts where the individual poverty rate is at least 20 percent or where median family income does not exceed 80 percent of the area median. Since its inception, NMTC investments have leveraged more than $80 billion in total capital investment to businesses and revitalization projects in communities with high rates of poverty and unemployment and has generated more than one million jobs.

More importantly, the NMTC helps people in areas that are too often overlooked in favor of residents in more populous areas. Congress authorized the program as part of the bipartisan Community Renewal Tax Relief Act of 2000, and is funded through 2019. Without further action, however, the projects like TERRA have little chance ever coming to fruition.

As we go online today, on #InternetDay, on our laptops, smartphones and tablets to read about the amazing things we can achieve through connectivity, let’s take a minute to consider those who still need to be brought into the fold, and how that can be achieved. Supporting more projects like TERRA, and preserving financing resources like the New Markets Tax Credit must be part of that thinking.

Phil Glynn is president of Travois, headquartered in Kansas City, Mo., which provided funding to the TERRA project.

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