In the News: Christopher Mitchell
June 1st, 2018
Media Outlet: Motherboard Vice
Motherboard Vice is a great publication that details the way that Internet access and these technologies impact people’s lives. Kaleigh Rogers asks the interesting question as to why the digital divide, the lack of Internet access in many parts of rural America, isn’t a larger issue in the 2018 election cycle. For her story, Rogers interviewed Christopher Mitchell, the director of the Community Broadband Networks initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance for his perspective as to why.
Here are Mitchell’s contributions:
Consider Mississippi, a state with one of the worst rates of access to broadband in the country. In urban areas, more than a quarter of Mississippians don’t have high speed internet, according to the Federal Communications Commission’s latest assessment. In rural areas, more than half the population doesn’t have broadband access. Mississippi is also the home of multiple highly contested midterm races—all four House seats, as well as both Senate seats, are up for grabs. Yet in all these races, I could find only a single, passing mention about broadband access, from one Democratic primary candidate, Jerone Garland, in an interview with the Clarion Ledger.
“I am afraid that it is mostly talk [for politicians],” said Christopher Mitchell, the director of Community Broadband Networks for the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. “Even those that may intend to do something about it will run into the powerful cable and telephone lobbyists and then have to make a hard decision: are they more afraid of their constituents or the cable and telephone companies? Historically, most have quietly sided with the cable and telephone monopolies and we are hard-pressed to name a single rural elected official that has lost his or her job because they made that choice.”
In Tennessee, broadband access has faced progress and setbacks. Chattanooga found economic revival after building city-owned gigabit internet, but was quickly prohibited from expanding the network to surrounding communities because of a Telecom-backed state law. Efforts to fight those limits have failed, making it difficult for municipal internet providers to expand and offer services to smaller communities.
A Tennessee Democratic Party spokesperson told me the broadband battle is being drowned out by more contentious rhetoric.