The first girl I kissed was also the first person I knew who had the Internet.

I remember wanting to kiss her more, which was why I called her house a lot. Except, if she was online, all I got was a busy signal.

That story makes me sound old, because people don't access the Internet via telephone lines anymore, right? After all, most people don't access the telephone via telephone lines anymore either, so the idea that in 2017 the Internet would come to your home through a traditional copper telephone line seems ridiculous.

Unless you live in rural America.

According to the United States Department of Commerce, about 22 million Americans--roughly 35% of the nation's rural residents--lack access to broadband.

And that's a problem.

The political, cultural, and economic divide between urban and rural America is sharp--and growing. And with more than half of all net new job creation in the United States coming from just five large urban areas (New York, Los Angeles, Houston, Dallas, and Miami), that divide is only going to continue to widen.

Broadband isn't the only issue facing rural America, and investing in high-speed Internet in Council Grove, Kansas, isn't going to make it a contender for Amazon's second headquarters.

However, America's electoral system is designed to give rural states disproportionate weight in the Senate and in presidential elections. Depending on your political beliefs (and where you live), you may believe that's unfair.

And it might be.

But it isn't likely to change.

The urban/rural divide isn't just an issue in presidential elections. The 2017 Virginia gubernatorial election has, in many ways, mimicked the 2016 presidential election. The divide between Virginians living in the northern suburbs and the state's rural residents has resulted in an divisive, toxic political atmosphere. That same rural/urban divide is evident in my home state--Missouri--where as many as 60% of rural residents lack access to high-speed Internet.

Of course, faster download speeds won't make Americans lock arms, forget all our differences, and become a more united country.

That said, that division has grown as more and more of the country's citizens feel structurally locked out of economic opportunity. Put a different way, if you're a smart kid growing up in the suburbs of Dallas, Texas, in 2017, you have access to learning opportunities and information your parents never dreamed of. That doesn't mean that every kid growing up in the suburbs of Dallas will succeed--far from it--but it does mean you have access to the tools modern humans need to be economically competitive.

If you're a kid growing up in Dallas, Arkansas?

It's a different story.

If you're a kid growing up in Dallas, Texas, who loves your hometown, you're fortunate to live in one of the strongest local economies in the world. If you're a kid growing up in Dallas, Arkansas, who loves where you are growing up, you may have to choose between your home and moving for economic opportunity.

Expanding broadband access to all of America won't turn Dallas, Arkansas, into Dallas, Texas.

But it will increase economic opportunities for Americans who want to live in rural places--and those people do exist.

I live in the St. Louis area. I know that sense of disenfranchisement is not limited to rural communities. But while we certainly haven't solved every issue facing urban residents, there is an urgency and energy toward improving economic opportunity in cities that is lacking in the discussion about rural communities.

We can change that--and one place to start might be investing in improving access to broadband.

Published on: Nov 7, 2017