If a word can be singled out to express the opinions of people attending U.S. Rep. Antonio Delgado’s 61st town hall meeting in Cairo on Wednesday, it is “quality” — as in water quality and quality broadband.
Broadband is an issue in all corners of Delgado’s 19th Congressional District. Like electricity a century ago, it is a basic necessity, especially in the age of COVID, remote learning and working from home. But the problem is how broadband access is mapped to determine who has it and who doesn’t.
People who were told they’re covered by broadband are often not covered because of the use of census block mapping, which is effective in zones of population density but not in rural communities dotted by farms, rivers, ponds and lakes not found in more highly populated settings. Census block mapping is flawed, yet it is the mapping process used at the state level to decide who has broadband.
Contaminants such as PFOA, or perfluorooctanoic acid, found in Cairo’s municipal water supply are disturbing because they can turn up in any community’s water supply. Contaminants are a widespread problem in the 19th District and have proved as frustrating as broadband access.
PFOA is a dangerous toxin that can cause autoimmune disorders, kidney disease and liver failure, among other potentially deadly conditions. Federal officials continually told Delgado they needed more data and more evidence, but the congressman said the fact of the matter is clear.
“What do you have to figure out? We know it hurts people, we know it harms people’s lives, why can’t we address it?” Delgado said.
In Cairo, the problem comes down to a basic need: Money.
“It is very tough for us to come up with hundreds of thousands of dollars for a filtration system,” Town Councilman Jason Watts said.
When it comes to wider broadband access and safe drinking water, Cairo and the rest of the 19th District should be among the state leaders in both, not limping along. Water and broadband are essential to this area’s health and economy. Delgado knows this and he has spoken sternly to Congress and federal officials. It’s time they started listening.