9 stats that prove the Internet is as important as any utility

The post is written by Rick Bates, a member of the coalition and the town manager of Rockport.

When it comes to broadband access, we cannot afford to stand by and do nothing in Maine — we need bold steps.

If you look at Internet speeds, Maine ranks 49th in the country, just ahead of Montana.  Further, the United States, the country where the internet was created, is not even a leader in internet speeds and, depending on the source you use, is not even near the top of the speed ladder.  We are somewhere between 17th and 30th place, falling behind countries like the Netherlands, Latvia and the Czech Republic.  So why does this matter?

The world is changing faster than many of us really can begin to understand. Like it or not, the need for speed and bandwidth is growing at an exponential rate.   Just look at these statistics:

  1. In 1984, there were 1,000 internet devices in the world.
  2. By 1992, that number had risen to one million.
  3. In 2008 that number had risen to 1 billion.
  4. And 6 years later in 2014, the number had risen to 10 billion!
  5. There are 5.9 billion searches on Google every day, 100 times more than 2000.
  6. The number of text messages sent every day is double the population of the planet.
  7. The amount of new technical information is doubling every two years
  8. 95% of all of the data in the world has been created in the last two years!
  9. In the time it took me to type this … all those numbers have all changed.

What does this all mean to you? The internet is no longer a luxury; it is a necessity of life today. It is as important as roads, electricity, water, and sewer.  The time has come for us to think of it that way.  Imagine for a minute what our roads would be like if we expected the trucking companies to build them.  We would have good roads to some places and to other places not so good.

In Rockport, our town office might as well close the doors and send everyone home, if we do not have internet service.  Most businesses cannot exist without the internet.  It has become a critical component of our educational system and as we get older and older, the need for telemedicine is increasing every day.  Even my mother in law (who would kill me if I said how old she is) is online every day, communicating with friends out of state and overseas, reading news from around the world, streaming her favorite TV shows and even monitoring the effects of her medications.  She is not a techno-geek, but she counts on the internet every day!

While Maine has huge assets in the quality of life department, it is like we are on an island.  Very few of us get here by accident.  Typically, those of us who are here are not driving around and happen upon Maine one day and say, “hey…this looks like a nice place, and I think I’ll live here.”  We get here, by making a very conscious choice about what is important to us and for many of us; the thing that is most important, is “place” and “quality of life.” In Maine, we have those things locked up.

But the thing that makes Maine a great place to live, also makes it a place, that may be difficult for you to work and do business…EXCEPT that the internet should allow Mainers to communicate and be competitive in the global marketplace from the comfort of their own home!  Well think again. Even in larger urban areas, the speed of the internet and the high cost of getting service is a major deterrent to business growth and economic development.

If anyone has heard the economic forecasts for Maine, it has been the same for years.  Maine will not grow in population and we will get older…that is if we do nothing.  I am doing my part to add to that older demographic.  Us old folks add “experience” to the state and will ultimately add to the need for better telemedicine; however, while it might be nice having us around, we are not the key to changing Maine’s economic future.

The key to that change is young families who can work and raise their children in this beautiful place we call home. Whether they move in (from away) or are young people born here that want to stay, they are our economic future. They will create businesses, raise their families, contribute to and be valuable members of the community, spend their money locally and be the economic engine we need to keep Maine vital and a great place for us old folks to live.

To borrow a quote from Senator King, “for the first time in our history we can work free of geography…people can work where they live rather than live where they work.”  The old model of people migrating to the factory, where the jobs are, is no longer applicable.  Under the new model, many young people are choosing to live where the quality of life is one that they want, and they find a way to make a living.  In today’s world, this is happening in cool, high quality places, which have high-speed affordable internet, a critical ingredient that is sorely lacking in Maine.

Today as we are struggling to maintain our next to last place position in the country, when it comes to internet speed it is important to recognize that we are losing ground fast.  Cities and towns all across the country recognize the importance of the internet to their citizens and are making substantial investments in fiber infrastructure.  Many State governments are raising hundreds of millions of dollars to ensure that they remain competitive and are providing broadband to residents and businesses.  Most are not considering small incremental improvements; they are going big and are providing gigabit access to their residents and businesses.  Next Century Cities of which Rockport and South Portland are members is growing in Membership. There are more than 400 municipally owned networks around the country and that number is growing every month. There is a tidal wave of gigabit connectivity going on all around the country, but not in Maine.

The Maine Broadband Coalition is trying to change that, but we need your help. We need residents and business leaders in the State to support the efforts of the coalition, the legislature and the individual communities that are trying to get on that wave.  We need to all start paddling and paddling in the same direction now, so we can ride that wave into the future…otherwise we will be caught in the undertow that will sweep us way out to sea alone and left to gather bits of flotsam, we need to survive.