January 15, 2021
Katie Boyd Britt
President and CEO, Business Council of Alabama
Executive Vice President, Chief Policy Officer, and Head of Strategic Advocacy, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
State legislators are consistently advocating for economic development within their local communities. They need to prepare for the future workforce in order to be competitive in obtaining jobs for their state. One of the biggest inequalities that hurts states’ chances to attract these jobs is a lack of broadband access.
This disadvantage is all too common in many parts of the U.S. — one of them being Alabama. Katie Boyd Britt, president and CEO of the Business Council of Alabama, advocates on behalf of the state in order to help modernize their economy.
In 2019, the state passed the Alabama Incentives Modernization Act, a piece of legislation that aims to attract tech companies to the state. One of the issues the law looks to address is the lack of high-speed broadband in certain rural areas of the state.
“We are focusing on trying to incentivize companies and businesses to create good-paying, solid jobs for Alabamians,” Boyd Britt said. “Something that I think is a challenge for us that we are tackling … is broadband.”
A Lack of Broadband Access Puts Rural Communities at an Economic Disadvantage
In previous decades, states couldn’t compete for certain types of jobs in their area because they didn't have the physical infrastructure or geography to support those jobs. For example, many states and cities that didn't have a seaport could not become importing centers.
High-speed internet can be the great equalizer, as it requires no physical landmark. But many rural areas, such as those in Alabama, don't have access to broadband. This issue became incredibly apparent and urgent during the COVID-19 pandemic, with new restrictions and stay-at-home orders. Many people were forced to work remotely yet did not have proper Internet capabilities, placing them at an obvious disadvantage.
“When you look at our population … over 90% of our lands in Alabama are deemed rural, but we have about 41% of our population that lives in rural communities,” Boyd Britt said. “If we want to have [a] 21st-century workforce and 21st-century jobs, we have to have 21st-century infrastructure.”
This is an issue that plagues many parts of the country, particularly rural communities. And as the workforce becomes increasingly remote and digitized, this can cause a huge divide if states don't properly address their broadband inequalities.