FORT MEADE, Fla. — Connect The Future (CTF) Florida, which aims to drive investment in broadband deployment across the state, on Monday recognized former Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls (R-Palm Harbor) and Representative Josie Tomkow (R-Polk City) with the Broadband Champion Award from the organization.

What you need to know

  • Connect The Future (CTF) Florida is focused on driving investment in broadband deployment across the state
  • The organization on Monday recognized former Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls and Representative Josie Tomkow with the Broadband Champion Award
  • CTF Florida website

The award recognizes Sprowls and Tomkow’s work in creating Florida’s new $400 million Broadband Opportunity Program, CTF Florida officials said.

The ceremony took place at Fort Meade Middle Senior High School (FMMSHS).

A panel discussion was held with speakers Sprowls, Tomkow, Polk County Public Schools Deputy Superintendent Wayne Green, an FMMSHS teacher, and an FMMSHS student leader. The purpose of the discussion, which was held for students and area stakeholders, is to focus on the effect of connectivity on educational opportunities in rural Florida, the persisting barriers to deploying broadband infrastructure, and the benefits that Floridians will gain from rural areas can enjoy the Broadband Opportunity Program, according to officials at CTF Florida.

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The panel was moderated by Group Vice President for State Government Affairs for Charter Communications Marva Johnson. Rep. Melony Bell (R-Fort Meade) gave opening remarks.

Before the panel discussion, Spectrum News spoke with a student from Fort Meade High School who discussed the importance of reliable internet when it comes to education.

“If you get a laptop and don’t have internet at home, it doesn’t matter that you can’t access it,” says Karla Najera, a junior.

As the daughter of two former migrant farm workers, Najera worried that a lack of connectivity could lead to her becoming the first in her family to graduate and go to university.

And while she may live in a mostly Hispanic rural neighborhood, the word “accessibility” is a term everyone there understands.

“I have the internet, but just because I have it doesn’t mean the others who live in the same area as me have it, because some don’t,” Najera said.

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But Meylin Nickerson, the migrant interventionist teacher from Polk County, says she’s been fighting for this for years. She says fast internet is the key to eliminating the slow process they currently have.

“I’ve spent many years researching how to get the best internet possible in some of these rural areas where my students live, but I just hit roadblocks,” Nickerson said.

Karla is hopeful that students in her community will benefit when broadband is finally added to their area.

“I think the opportunities are endless and they have to keep pushing no matter what, no matter how hard it gets.”

Charter Communications is a partner of Connect The Future, an external organization focused on broadband expansion.

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