As our current legislative session proceeds to debate bill after bill that impacts every citizen’s life, an unreported threat to democracy has clearly emerged that nobody seems willing to acknowledge: that only the privileged few are consistently heard in matters of state government.
In this day and age of remote telecommunications, affluent urbanites enjoy stable broadband access with reliable connections that allow them to fully participate in civic discourse – the bedrock of our society and democracy. Their opinions are easily heard by legislators, and they enjoy the privilege of representation in the state Senate and House, as well as, if not more importantly, in committee meetings prior to any call for votes.
Rural Vermonters, however, do not enjoy that same privilege. The lack of broadband infrastructure across the state prohibits many from participating in the most basic of public discussion when it comes to matters of policy, which is the very foundation of our republic. In parts of the countryside where access is available, it’s often unreliable or lacks the necessary bandwidth to adequately run live-conferencing applications such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams or other means of telecommunications.
The impact of this geo-economic disparity is that rural citizens of Vermont are left unrepresented when it comes to legislation directly impacting their income, property, day-to-day life and culture. Senate Bills 316, 201, 281 and 129 are just the most recent examples of privileged urban dwellers enjoying an outsized voice in state politics.
The kicker here is that these bills have nothing to do with zoning laws, mass transit, industrial sprawl, education or healthcare, but with wildlife management. The very people these policies will impact every day are underrepresented or left out of the policymaking process altogether, while the affluent voice their opinions without any skin in the game – if the policies are poorly designed, they do not suffer the consequences the silenced majority will struggle under. In effect, the state will victimize rural residents twice over by failing to provide the infrastructure that allows them to participate in the full civic life of our communities and state. Regardless of where you stand on the aforementioned bills, equal opportunity to participate in our government is something we can all agree on. It’s about time someone recognized that rural voices are being left out of policy discussions precisely when we need them most.
Gone are the days of no taxation without representation; today’s equivalent is no representation without telecommunication.
Mike Covey is the executive director of Vermont Traditions Coalition.