At every level of education the Internet is becoming the primary way today’s students collect information, do research, communicate with teachers and eventually look for work. It has also proven to be a key component in most small businesses’ ability to compete and thrive in the modern market. Social media pages are the new Yellow Pages when it comes to looking up goods and services as well as connecting with customers. While once considered a luxury, having access to high-speed, reliable Internet is now a critical aspect in a community’s ability to thrive economically and maintain a high quality of life for its residents.

Here in Maine we are leaving our rural residents out of potential economic growth and modern educational opportunities. Simply put, our children are going to schools elsewhere and our entrepreneurs are setting up shops closer to where reliable and competitive speeds are in order to grow successful and lucrative businesses.

Maine ranks 37th in the U.S. in terms of access to broadband, making the state low on the desirability list for those who rely on technology for school, work and life. Outdated systems pepper Aroostook, Washington and Franklin counties and leave vast majorities of that territory in the dark altogether. Those of us who want to live, go to school and work in the lesser populated portions of the state today are getting further and further behind the rest of the country. By not investing in sufficient access to functional and competitive Internet speeds we are losing out on markets, medical and veterinary care, and educational opportunities for ourselves and our children in our hometowns.

Only 12 percent of Mainers are currently served with standard broadband speeds at this time. The remainder are operating well below the national average speed, if they have access at all. With technology becoming the primary way we communicate and conduct business in our modern-day economy most Mainers are limited on both fronts. The longer we ignore this problem the further behind we will become.

As a recent college graduate of the University of Maine System, I want to stay in Maine. The problem is, in order to live where I would like to live I would be settling for limiting my job opportunities as well as my access to medical advancements I may need and educational opportunities for my future children. That’s why I have become involved with advocating for broadband access in rural Maine, and why you should, too.

I began by going to the ConnectME Authority’s website and reporting my underserved area in Aroostook County. ConnectME, according to its website, is a “component unit of Maine state government whose mission is to facilitate the universal availability of broadband to all Mainers and help them understand the valuable role it can play in enriching their lives and helping their communities and businesses thrive.” I also connected with my legislators, expressed my experiences and asked where they stood on the issue, letting them know as a voter how important broadband access is to me and my generation. Finally, I began to attend public gatherings on the issue where my concerns and the concerns of others could be voiced and the problem solving could begin.

The more young Mainers demand quality broadband access, the more attention will be paid to this paramount issue. We are willing and able, and, I believe, the generation that will revitalize Maine’s economy. The state of Maine says that it wants us to stay here and thrive, we all need to tell our elected officials what tools we need in order to do so.

Jasmine Jaye Haines, a Fort Fairfield native, grew up on a combination tree and trout farm. She recently graduated from the University of Southern Maine, where she studied liberal arts and communications.