There has been a lot of talk recently about the Multi-use Corridors of Regional Economic Significance (M-CORES) program — about how it’s not needed — and I want to speak up and bring some rural perspective to the discussion.

The district I represent is largely rural, and I live in a rural area. It is an area that does not have a consistent speed of at least 10 megs of download and 1 meg of upload. I’ve also regularly heard from those in my area, and experienced myself, inconsistencies in this speed, or that some don’t even have access to it at all.

The M-CORES program would change this. It would improve different types of infrastructure, such as broadband, water and sewer services, so communities, like the ones that make up my district and similar ones like it throughout the State of Florida, can have critical access to these needed services.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought many unexpected challenges. Before, many probably looked at Internet access as the means to be able to stream your favorite TV show or listen to your music from a streaming service. However, with the pandemic, as we’ve seen schools move to at-home online classes and work becoming remote for those who are non-essential, access to broadband has become even more important. Instead of it being viewed as a luxury, it has become a necessity, a means to critical education and earning a living.

Even before the pandemic, the internet gave those with reliable access to it many more opportunities than those without or limited access to it in rural areas. It enabled people to have a profession from home and cut down on business overhead by running a business from their residence. It also allowed people to learn new skills or seek new work opportunities. It even gave a working parent the opportunity to also go to school online and get their degree.

For those of us who are in these rural areas and are struggling more so now with lack of access and inconsistencies in broadband strength, expanded access through the M-CORES program is needed. It’s something I think has become more clear now than ever.

I believe the M-CORES plan, especially the Southwest-Central Florida Connector, is the best thing to happen to rural Florida and our community. For us, our need for broadband access hasn’t changed with the pandemic. It has only become stronger.

State Senator Ben Albritton represents Senate District 26, which includes DeSoto, Glades, Hardee, Highlands and Okeechobee counties and parts of Charlotte, Lee and Polk counties.